One year in, tribes' new CEO looks back

Returns from Arizona


by: HOLLY M. GILL - Jake Suppah, with wife, Julie, and daughter, Jalaney, 13, moved back to Warm Springs last year when he was named secretary-treasurer.In 2013, Jake Suppah and his family had a comfortable life in Mesa, Ariz., where he had been the accounting manager for the Fort McDowell Casino for the previous decade.

When he got a call from his brother-in-law, Tribal Council member Orvie Danzuka, letting him know that Danzuka was going to nominate him for secretary-treasurer, Suppah discussed the possibility that he would be selected with his family and weighed his options.

"It was interesting, because I knew the tribes were going through a lot of challenges," said Suppah, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs who had grown up in the community and was kept "in the loop" by family while he was away.

Unemployment on the reservation is conservatively estimated at around 70 percent, compared to Jefferson County's rate, which is below 10 percent. Outdated systems — such as computer systems for accounting and human resources — and aging infrastructure are among the pressing needs of the tribes.

"I knew it was going to be challenging; it was definitely going to be a change. We both grew up here," he said, referring to his wife of nearly 15 years, Julie. "It's a different kind of environment."

Even though he anticipated that there might be political and personal conflict, Suppah said, "We were up for the challenge."

Born in Warm Springs, with ancestors from all three tribes — Warm Springs, Wasco and Paiute, Suppah lost his father, Vernon M. Suppah, when he was 13. His late mother, Lily Ann Moses Walker, and stepfather, the late Gary Walker, raised him.

After graduating from Madras High School in 1995, he attended Mesa Community College in Arizona, and then returned in 1999 to attend Central Oregon Community College and Linfield College, in McMinnville, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 2001.

In 1999, he married Julie Lewis, who had two daughters, Sophie Smith-Espinoza, now 26, and Sierra Cannon, now 18. Together, they have another daughter, Jalaney Lily Ann Suppah, 13, who will be an eighth-grader at Jefferson County Middle School this fall.

The family moved back to Arizona in 2002, so Suppah could attend the University of Phoenix, where he earned a Master of Business Administration in 2004.

In the meantime, Suppah was hired by Fort McDowell Casino in 2003, working first in accounting, and then with business enterprises for several years before becoming the accounting manager. He continued his post-baccalaureate education in accounting at Arizona State University, where he finished up in 2009.

"That allowed me enough hours to sit for CPA (certified public accountant), but I never took the test," he said.

The years of college education and employment at Fort McDowell provided a good background for Suppah, but at first, it was a bit overwhelming moving back to the reservation and jumping into the secretary-treasurer position, which is essentially the chief executive officer job for the tribes.

"It was a shocker coming into the job," he said. "Pieces of it I could understand right away — understanding how I fit in — but it took a good six months to get familiarized with everything."

"Even now, I learn something new every day," said Suppah.

Next week: Suppah discusses the tribes' assets and challenges.




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