Since time immemorial, tribal nations have been stewards of the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, portions of which subsequently became the Washington Territory and, in 1889, the state of Washington. From the Kalispel in the northeast to the Cowlitz in the southwest to the Quinault on the coast, and more than two dozen sovereign nations in between, tribes are an integral part of our state’s past and present. 

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1241, now pending in the Legislature, would enable tribal governments to collaboratively plan with regional and local governments for our shared future — a future that is not only more socially and racially just, but environmentally and economically resilient. We must urge the Legislature to pass this legislation and for Gov. Jay Inslee to sign it.

Adoption of ESHB 1241 would be a key milestone in creating “government-to-government” relationships with tribal governments, a process that began three decades ago. In 1989, Gov. Booth Gardner entered into the Centennial Accord with dozens of tribal governments in our state. The accord committed the executive branch to a “Government to Government relationship” with the signatory tribes and has served since as the framework for communication, cooperation and collaboration between tribal governments and state agencies.

A year after the accord was signed, the Legislature passed the Growth Management Act (GMA). This law is Washington’s policy cornerstone for environmental stewardship, economic prosperity and community vitality. Since 1990, it has assigned planning duties and authorities exclusively to counties and cities to plan for and accommodate forecasted growth.  

The original draft of the GMA legislation included tribal governments as active participants, however, those provisions were dropped before the act was adopted. The Legislature can now rectify that omission by passing ESHB 1241, which would amend the Growth Management Act in a number of ways, one of which would be to ensure that those federally recognized tribes that wish to “shall be invited to participate in and cooperate with the countywide planning policy adoption process.”  

GMA regional planning is important because it obliges local governments to work together to address critical issues that transcend city limits and county boundaries. Countywide planning policies establish the extent of the urban growth area, allocate where population is to be accommodated, address affordable housing, promote contiguous and orderly provision of urban services, and site capital facilities.

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The GMA has helped conserve farms and forests, protect environmentally sensitive lands, reduce sprawl, and concentrate growth where urban services can be efficiently provided. However, it is urgent to update GMA because much has changed since 1990. Washington’s population has surged from 4.8 million to 7.6 million. We now face multiple wicked crises — climate change; environmental, economic and racial injustice; increasingly unaffordable housing; and the collapse of marine life in the Salish Sea.

The inadequacy of our planning laws to meet these crises was documented in a 2019 report prepared for the Legislature. The Road Map to Washington’s Future distilled 60 public workshops across the state and dozens of interviews with stakeholder groups to identify transformational changes needed to Washington’s planning laws. Among the reforms identified were to amend the GMA to include tribes in a systematic, inclusive and regional-scaled planning process.

Much has also changed for tribes since 1990. They have become economic engines, investing hundreds of millions of gaming revenue dollars into enterprises such as museums, hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, retail and aquaculture. In 2017, these enterprises purchased more than $3 billion in goods and services and provided 55,000 total jobs, 70% of which are held by non-Native Americans.

Tribes have also collaborated with state and local governments to achieve multiple wins for climate resilience, enhanced fisheries, agriculture, flood control, outdoor recreation and municipal water supply. Tribes played key roles in the Dungeness Off-Channel Reservoir project and the Yakima River Basin Integrated Plan — the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in the former, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation in the latter.

As sovereign nations, tribes cannot be compelled to comply with state laws, and each tribe speaks only for itself. Nevertheless, tribes see the benefit of collaboration with their county and city neighbors. The Quinault Indian Nation provided some of the seed money for the Road Map project, and a number of tribes participated in Updating Washington’s Growth Policy Framework, a continued multiparty collaborative conversation hosted by the University of Washington in 2020. During those university-led discussions, representatives of many tribal governments expressed a strong desire to have a seat at the GMA planning table, and helped draft some of the language that was subsequently incorporated into ESHB 1241.

We urge the Legislature to pass ESHB 1241. We also encourage counties, cities and tribes to continue to build “Government to Government” relationships in keeping with the goodwill and promise of the Centennial Accord.