Federal grant aids Washoe Tribe in economic planning
Special to the Northern Nevada Business Weekly
Background on the REDI initiative
The Rural Economic Development Innovation (REDI) initiative provides free technical assistance for up to two years to help rural towns and regions — or in this case, tribal communities — create and implement economic development plans.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Innovation Center created the initiative to support recommendations identified in the 2017 Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, which outlines steps to develop rural economies and support quality of life.
In September 2018, USDA awarded $1.2 million in cooperative agreements to help project partners finance the free assistance.
Then, on June 2019, USDA and partners selected 48 rural communities and regions — including the Washoe Tribe — on a competitive basis to receive planning assistance from one of the four partner organizations.
The REDI Initiative is co-sponsored by the Rural Community Assistance Corporation with support from Umpqua Bank.
Go to washoetribe.us to learn more about the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada.
This past fall, under a dark, lightning-laced sky, members of the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada began working with the USDA’s Rural Economic Development Innovation (REDI) initiative.
The tribal chairman, staff and elders were committed to improving tribal processes to move economic development forward in a more structured way.
Early in the process, Tribal Chairman Serrell Smokey voiced his interest in developing enterprise activities that bring Washoe culture to life.
“Our culture is alive, and as we grow, we need that to be part of all that we do,” he said.
Over the last four months, multiple tribal meetings have been held involving tribal and community members, tribal governance, tribal staff and tribal partners.
At the partner meeting Jan. 9, some 30 participants broke into groups to outline value chains on project ideas, identifying the demand, transactional partners and support partners for each idea.
For a group that has only been meeting since November 2019, there is a strong sense of understanding among the plan participants, of both the tribe’s history with business enterprise and its need to move forward with an economic development plan that is firmly rooted in Washoe culture to care for land, the people and the waters of their ancestral lands.
The Washoe Tribe’s economic history in Northern Nevada
The Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California is a federally recognized Indian Tribe with about 1,300 members who live primarily in four reservation communities — the Dresslerville, Stewart and Carson communities in Nevada, and the Woodfords Community in Alpine County, Calif.
Many also live off-reservation. Tribally-owned parcels dot the landscape in Carson City, Douglas and Alpine counties.
The Tribe’s aboriginal ties to their homeland extend 10,000+ years in the Lake Tahoe Basin and adjacent east and west slopes and valleys of the Sierra Nevada.
The Washoe Tribe traces its origins to the creation story in which they come from this place, radiating from Da?aw ?aga (the edge of the lake — known today as Lake Tahoe), their spiritual and cultural center.
Washoe people traditionally lived a seasonal life of hunting and plant gathering, spending summers at Tahoe hunting, fishing and collecting medicinal plants; trading with native peoples to the West; and serving as stewards of their beloved lake and surrounding lands.
Families journeyed down to the Pine Nut Mountains to gather pine nuts and celebrate the harvest as a staple food source. During winter and spring, they lived in the valleys of the Eastern Sierra, including present day Carson Valley, Eagle Valley and Washoe Valley.
The Tribe’s role in improving the region’s economic landscape
Today, trade and commerce continue as important activities for the Washoe/Wašiw people, and the Washoe Tribe prides itself on partnering with businesses and government and nonprofit organizations to improve the Sierra region’s economic landscape.
For the REDI planning efforts, trainers and facilitators Carol Cohen and Noa Kornbluh of the Rural Community Assistance Corporation are the technical assistance providers who facilitate discussion for free and assist tribal members in identifying future economic opportunities using a process called “Wealth Works.”
The process focuses on assets or capital that a community considers fundamental to its community and builds upon that framework to set future direction.
For example, at the first meeting, tribal members identified all that they knew about their own tribal enterprise, including smoke shops and even a shrimp farm.
History showed that bursts of activity were sometimes useful, but that sustained and thriving enterprise had not succeeded until recently.
Over the past 10 years, the tribe has been building enterprise activities through a variety of businesses, including Curry Street and Mica Drive smoke shops in Carson City; Meeks Bay Resort at Lake Tahoe, and the Wa She Shu Casino and Travel facility in Gardnerville.
Aided by REDI, the Washoe Tribe’s updated economic plan, aimed for completion by the end of 2020, will help structure and focus economic development for the future.
Kelly Clark is Public Affairs & Special Projects Coordinator for USDA Rural Development Nevada. Visit rd.usda.gov/nv to learn more.