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New tribal leader has made tough calls, is positive role model

Hopefully all our readers took time to read the two-part article on new Warm Springs chief operations officer Jake Suppah.

Suppah is a still-young man raised on the reservation, a graduate of Madras High School, who earned business degrees and held a major job for a casino for years in Arizona, before being essentially drafted back to run the reservation during a financially difficult time.

Suppah represents a new era of leadership in Warm Springs, and he should give the Tribes reason to be proud, and for hope.

No doubt that it's an interesting, difficult time for the Tribes. They face tough financial situations along with the consistent cultural and societal issues that are widespread across Indian Country in North America, issues not one person — be it Suppah, Obama or the Pope — could solve.

Suppah has been on the job for about a year. The Pioneer has been dogging him for nearly the entire time to sit for an interview. His take was that he had more important things to do, like get ahold of the many elements of his job. He was right. But he recently relented and spent some time with News Editor Holly Gill.

During his leadership, the council has made bold steps. They took back the Warm Springs Mill, they reworked a runaway travel budget, and they reduced the per month checks to tribal members from $100 to $25. With about 5,200 tribal members, that's $390,000 in savings per month. Suppah notes that the per capita change was essentially a no-brainer, that it had to be done, but it still affected every single tribal member. It may have been a no-brainer, but it signaled a new direction.

Reservation government reflects a more socialistic, communal society and culture. Sustainability issues are rampant and immense. With unemployment at about 70 percent, the Tribes are consistently looking for economic development. Hopefully the promise of the unmanned aerial testing — something the entire region is crossing its fingers on — will pan out.

The Tribes are also looking very closely at a large-scale racetrack on the reservation. Suppah said that even if the upcoming referredum on the prospect passes, they will thoroughly research the track issue before moving forward on it. Sure, there is no NASCAR-capable track in the Northwest, but maybe there's a reason for that. Other communities and regions have considered it but, so far, none has dropped the green flag on a project, so to speak.

The Deschutes River elements of their economy — their power enterprises and their share of the two dams — remains strong, and their casino is growing while Kah-Nee-Ta is working through a re-emergence, a period of transititon following the casino's departure.

All this comes when education is at the forefront of topics. In 2012, the Tribes made a $10 million commitment, matching the Madras-based 509-J district's infusion, to build the new K-8 school on the reservation, replacing the aging elementary school. The new school will keep reservation students in Warm Spring through eighth grade instead of sending them to the Jefferson County Middle School as sixth-graders.

How the new school will impact the reservation — and the middle school in Madras — is the "great social/educational experiment" for the Tribes and Jefferson County. It commences this fall, and will play out over years.

This week, the 509-J School District approved a vocational school concept in Warm Springs for high school kids, targeting kids who might otherwise drop out to stay in school. On the surface, this can't be anything but wise and overdue.

Part of Suppah's reluctance to want to sit down for an interview is that it isn't tribal government's nature to share details of their business with the media. They are under no open meetings or public information laws. They are a soveriegn entity and that's their right.

But the sad thing for me, personally, is that our paper has easy access to the bad news out of the reservation. County and federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors will send us information on tribal members charged with crimes, or found guilty in federal courts. We'll print those stories because they are newsworthy and important. But, meanwhile, the many positive, unique and inspirational stories that reflect the vast majority of tribal members too often go untold by us. The Tribes' own outstanding tribal newspaper, the Spilyah Tymoo, is discouraged from reporting negative news. Balanced, reality-based coverage from either paper is hard to realize.

I'll now dismount from my news media soapbox. In reality, how the media covers them is only a blip on the list of important elements facing the reservation.

But it was important for us to have the two-part story on Suppah, to not only update what tribal government has been doing, but to showcase a local product of Warm Springs who is forging an important, impressive career, while providing a great role model for the Warm Springs people.

There is plenty of good news in Warm Springs, and we're happy to have been able to present a slice of it.



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  • 31 Oct 2014

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  • 1 Nov 2014

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