On Saturday, several hundred people paid tribute to Jones, 83, in the hotel's Grand Ballroom and credited him with the leadership and vision to develop the Tulalip Tribes' valuable land along Interstate 5 west of Marysville into the booming Quil Ceda Village retail center and in turn secure the Tribes' economic future.

Share story

The luxe Grand Ballroom of the $125 million Tulalip Hotel was hardly imaginable in Stan Jones’ youth. The tribal elder and long-serving board member was born into poverty and grew up on a reservation that lacked electricity or running water.

As a young father, he camped with his wife, infant daughter and 2-year-old son on a beach on Tulalip Bay where he earned half his year’s income pulling in salmon nets by hand.

On Saturday, several hundred people paid tribute to Jones, 83, in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom and credited him with the leadership and vision to develop the Tulalip Tribes’ valuable land along Interstate 5 west of Marysville into the booming Quil Ceda Village retail center and in turn secure the Tribes’ economic future.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Jones stepped down from the Tulalip board of directors in April, after 44 years of continuous service. He was board chairman for 26 of those years.

“He is one of the great leaders in Tulalip history,” said Mel Sheldon, who succeeded Jones as chairman in 2007.

The economic success of Quil Ceda Village — the hotel, casinos and outlet mall generate $720 million in annual revenues — has made the Tulalips a leading example of tribal self-sufficiency and Jones a national political figure.

He’s met presidents Clinton and Bush, spoken to United Nations conferences on indigenous people in Rome and Geneva, thrown out a first pitch at a Mariners game and scored one of the coveted invitations to Bill Gates’ house for the private dinner honoring China’s President Hu Jintao in 2006.

“World leader”

“He’s a world leader,” said his friend Billy Franks Jr., a Nisqually elder and chairman of the Northwest Indian Fishing Commission. “He has been our ambassador to the world.”

Franks and Jones were leaders in the fight for Indian fishing rights that culminated in the Boldt decision in 1974. Before that, Native fishermen were restricted by state law to the rivers of their reservations and banned from commercial fishing in Puget Sound.

The controversial federal court decision gave half the annual salmon catch to the tribes, as well as joint authority with the state to manage fisheries resources.

Lead attorney

Mason Morisset, the lead attorney in the fisheries litigation, said the issues were complex but that Jones was “not to be deterred.”

“Stan has tremendous intelligence. He could grasp the legal angles, the political angles, the historical angles,” Morisset said at Saturday’s banquet.

The tribes had just three employees when Jones joined the board of directors in 1966. Today, the tribes employ more than 2,600 people and the revenue generated by Quil Ceda Village, developed over the past decade, pays for a host of government services including a health clinic, senior services, a preschool, academic support and Salish language classes for tribal students, and college tuition for any member who wants to attend.

Jones calls the development “our city” and boasts that no other tribe owns its own city on its reservation.

State Rep. John McCoy, a Tulalip and the general manager of Quil Ceda Village, said the success of the development wasn’t guaranteed. Donald Trump and Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn both courted the Tulalips, offering to trade their names and expertise for a large share of the profits.

Genial facade

McCoy said the outsiders often mistook the genial Jones for a pushover.

“They underestimated him. They thought they could run right over him.” In the end, the Tulalips kept control of their businesses. “It’s the best decision we ever made,” McCoy said.

On the board of directors, Jones developed a reputation for winning consensus for major decisions. But he could also be forceful.

Glen Gobin, 53, a fellow board member, remembers many times when Jones slammed his fist down on the board table and said, “This is the way it’s going to be.”

“He could be decisive when he needed to be,” Gobin said.

With his retirement approaching, Jones spent much of the past year writing a self-published book, ” ‘Our Way’ Hoy yud dud,” a series of vignettes and memories of his childhood, his family and the Indian traditions, once banned by the American government, that he helped revive.

Earlier last week, at the brick rambler on the reservation that he shares with his wife of 60 years, Jo Ann, he said it “shocked” him that he was able to finish the work. Jones’ wife and daughter, Teri Gobin, who helped in its final production, were less surprised.

Handwritten journals

Jo Ann Jones said her husband has kept handwritten journals for more than 30 years and that the papers he had saved from his 40 years in tribal government, recently turned over to the future Tulalip Museum, filled the back of a pickup three times.

As a boy, Jones recalled, his mouth was washed out with lye soap for speaking the native Salish language instead of English at school. He remembers a sign outside a Marysville bar that said, “No dogs or Indians.”

“People don’t know about the hardships. They don’t know anything about it,” Jones said, adding that in writing the book, he wanted others to understand how far the Tulalips have come.

Today, he noted, Tulalip students learn Salish in their own schools.

His daughter said her father has set an example of hard work and integrity for several generations of tribal members.

But his greatest strength, she said, may be his ability to “walk right through barriers and leave the bitterness behind.”

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.