Tribal Council tackling challenges

Under new secretary-treasurer


by: HOLLY M. GILL - Jake Suppah, secretary-treasurer of the tribes, returned to Warm Springs last year with his wife, Julie, and daughter, Jalaney.For Jake Suppah, the secretary-treasurer for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, returning to the community was just the first step in making a difference in the community.

Suppah, 37, grew up in Warm Springs, and moved back from Arizona last summer, when he was selected by the Tribal Council as the new secretary-treasurer, a position equivalent to chief executive officer in the organization. Upon his return, he found new faces on the council and a new desire to improve the tribal organization.

"We have goals that we're trying to meet for the tribes," he said. "We're going to try to stick to that and accomplish that."

Among the goals are improving outdated systems, "like the computer systems we use for HR (human resources) and accounting," said Suppah, noting that in his previous job, as the accounting manager for Fort McDowell Casino, near Scottsdale, Ariz., he was accustomed to having top-of-the-line software. "Old software causes user ability problems."

"We've tried to update our court system — another system that's really outdated," he said.

For the first time "in a very long time," Suppah brought in a new audit firm, REDW Audit and Consulting, which has offices in Arizona and New Mexico and works with Native American tribes.

The audit, which is nearly complete, has "turned up some things that we definitely need to address," he said. "It's been a positive thing, even though it's created more work. There are a lot of weaknesses we have to address."

For the 2014 calendar year, the tribes, which have about 5,200 members, are operating on a budget of about $13 million. Currently, there are about 700-800 workers employed by the tribes, but that can balloon up to 1,000 with fire crews and seasonal workers, he said.

The Tribal Council reduced per capita — which is paid to tribal members from timber harvest receipts — from $100 per month to $25 per month, "because those funds were depleted."

The council also made the travel budget an administrative item. Now, tribal members need to obtain approval from Tribal Council for travel, which ensures that there is accountability for the money spent.

Stressing that travel is necessary, Suppah said that the change makes it more strategic. For example, he said, "You have to have people representing (the tribes) at Washington, D.C., for major meetings."

Aging infrastructure — buildings, pipes, roads — is another area of major concern, which Suppah hopes to begin addressing during the next two years of his three-year term, as the tribes look into ways to increase revenue from businesses and dividends from enterprises.

Regarding the tribes' current businesses and industries, Suppah mentioned several bright spots:

. Warm Springs Power and Water Enterprises is doing well, he said, and trying to build savings to eventually own 51 percent of the Pelton-Round Butte Hydroelectric Project.

. Indian Head Casino, now located on U.S. Highway 26 in Warm Springs, is developing its business. "The base is growing steadily," said Suppah.

. Kah-Nee-Ta Resort is doing better this year than last. "They had some hardships last year with the fire," he said, referring to the Sunnyside Turnoff Fire. "It affected them because they had to shut down during the busy time. They've been making some changes; hopefully, they will do better this year than last year."

. Warm Springs Composite Products "is always a consistent business for us — a strong business."

. Warm Springs Ventures have "a couple projects going on right now that are probably ready to take off." Projects include work on unmanned aerial vehicles, which are being tested on the reservation, a motor sports complex.

A tribal referendum on the Warm Springs Motorsports Complex and Events is set for July 1. "I do see the economic benefit if it were to be successful, but it's not a grand slam," he said. "A portion of the referendum is to do more field work and see if it's a viable business."

The Warm Springs Mill continues to struggle. "The tribes took it back over from Vanport; we ended the contract early," said Suppah, noting that both sides agreed. "Vanport still does the marketing for export logs."

As the tribes and School District 509-J build a new kindergarten through eighth-grade school in Warm Springs, Suppah hopes to see more emphasis on education. In his own life, education was critical.

"My mother, Lily Ann (Moses Walker), was a college graduate from Oregon State University, became a grade school teacher at Madras Elementary, and worked in the education department over the years for CTWS," he said. "She played a huge role to me growing up, stressing good grades, attendance, and goals."

His mother died in May 1996, during Suppah's first year of college, but she inspired him to pursue education. "She challenged me to believing I could be a leader," he said.

His grandmother, Kathleen Kalama Moses, who helped raise him, passed away a year later. "Both of these role models, who raised me, always talked about hard work, dedication, (and) instilled in me the thought of acquiring more knowledge out in the world through the scope of education," said Suppah, who eventually went on to earn a Master of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix in 2004.

Since returning, Suppah is enjoying working with the Tribal Council. "There's always a difference of opinion, but I think that's a good thing," he said. "It's a good mix; it spawns good discussion. At the end of the day, we all have to come to some sort of consensus."

He realizes that the job is political and there will always be criticism. "Whoever comes into this job is going to have that," said Suppah. "You're never going to please everybody; you just have to try to do the right thing consistently, fairly and just by policy."




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