Spokane Journal of Business

Kalispels' gifts are spread wide

Tribe's charitable donations nearing $1 million this year, up from $700,000 in 2011

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Kalispels' gifts are spread wide
-—Staff photo by Treva Lind
Curt Holmes says the Kalispel Charitable Fund supports about 200 nonprofits, including the YMCA of the Inland Northwest.

After hearing about a number of concussions among youth football players in Cusick, Wash., the Kalispel Tribe of Indians recently put $14,000 toward buying new helmets and shoulder pads for the school district's athletes.

The relatively small gift is one of a total of nearly $1million in community donations expected to be made this year by the Kalispel Charitable Fund, which supports nonprofit programs in Spokane and Pend Oreille counties, says Curt Holmes, director of public and governmental affairs for the Kalispel Tribe.

The tribe, which has a 4,600-acre reservation near Usk, Wash., and owns Northern Quest Resort & Casino, in Airway Heights, has a seen a rise in requests for such donations this year, adds Julie Holland, communications manager for Northern Quest.

"In these tough economic times, smaller groups have told us they wouldn't have made it without the support because they've lost some federal funding," Holland says. "Many businesses have less to give."

Overall, Holland and Holmes say the Kalispel Charitable Fund supports about 200 nonprofit and charitable organizations in Spokane and the Inland Northwest.

The fund's giving in 2011 totaled about $700,000, and since Northern Quest Resort & Casino opened its doors in 2000, the tribe's charitable giving has reached more than $7 million, Holland says.

The charitable fund, overseen by a committee of about eight members, contributes financial support to education, health care, arts, social services, environmental, and other community causes.

Susan Newer, a Washington State Gambling Commission spokeswoman, says that tribes with state gaming compacts have agreed to give 0.5 percent of net receipts from gaming machines to charitable nonprofits. Through the compacts, the tribes also agreed to contribute up to 2 percent of net receipts from table games to local government agencies to offset casinos' impacts on communities, with that money going to support services such as fire, emergency, and law enforcement.

The gaming compacts' giving requirements don't involve some types of gaming, such as traditional Indian games, bingo, and pull tabs, among others.

Since 2007, the compacts also have required tribes to give a small percentage of revenue for smoking-cessation and problem-gambling programs.

Holmes says that although the Kalispels' compact with the state requires that the tribe give a certain percentage of revenue to community nonprofits, the tribe's total charitable giving far exceeds the requirement. The tribe declines to disclose its revenues from the casino and resort.

However, Holmes says, "We do way above and well beyond what the compact says we should. You'll probably find that's the case with a lot of tribes."

Schools often have been the recipient of support from the charitable fund, Holmes adds. He says more than $700,000 over a period of five years went toward reading curriculum material for several schools, including in Newport and Cusick, which are the closest to the reservation. Tribal members make up about 30 percent of Cusick's enrolled students, he says.

"Before Northern Quest, we did quite a bit to help local schools and the community," he says.

The tribe also has supported for several years an annual fundraiser that benefits the Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children's Hospital and the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, among other support it provides to Sacred Heart, the Shriners hospital here, and Newport Hospital & Health Services.

Additionally, Holmes says the tribe has supported the YMCA of the Inland Northwest and its programs for several years.

"Youth and education are top priorities," Holmes says. "We also put a high priority on the elderly, health care, and we're a big supporter of the new medical school in Spokane," which will train rural physicians, including young tribal members who want to become doctors, he adds.

"We want to help the core of downtown to thrive," he says.

Other organizations that the Kalispel Charitable Fund supports range from the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture to the Rypien Foundation, which aids Inland Northwest families fighting childhood cancer.

In describing other community contributions, Holmes frequently refers to the Camas Center, a 77,000-square-foot wellness facility that was completed in 2008 for about $21 million and is located on the reservation.

The center has swimming pools, a full-sized gymnasium, exercise equipment, a medical clinic, a dental center, meeting rooms, and an early learning center where kids hear the tribe's Salish language. It is open to tribal members and the residents of the surrounding community for low monthly membership rates.

It's among other examples of health facilities built in recent years on Native American reservations as proceeds from casinos help fund the infrastructure. The Camas Center also is operating at about $1.3 million annual loss, Holmes says.

"We knew that going into it," he says, adding that leaders plan to keep membership rates low. "The long-term health benefits outweigh the cost. The wellness center has created a sense of community."

He says numerous people in the area have improved their health, including those dealing with diabetes or other conditions. He also says he frequently witnesses conversations among tribal members and residents from surrounding communities while they're at the center.

"They're congregating in the hallway after exercising, or they're talking while next to each other on treadmills—tribal members and community members, or among tribal members."

At the center, the tribe and its health clinic also are working to reduce the rate of concussions and sports-related injuries among student athletes by supporting pre-season, baseline concussion assessments of youth football players and offering post-injury testing. Camas Dental Services, also inside the center, is sponsoring custom-fitted mouth guards for the football players.

Additionally, the tribe is supporting development of the Kalispel Salish language curriculum for all ages. The sharing of the language was in jeopardy between 1996 and 1998, before the casino's development, Holmes says, when about seven of its few elders who were fluent speakers of the language died.

"We're retaining our culture," he says, adding that the tribe is undertaking an aggressive and technical approach to teaching the language to youth. He contends his children can now understand and speak Salish better than he can.

Overall, he says the tribe usually averts publicity regarding its charitable giving, but that more and more, it's being seen through tribal partnerships forged in the community. He adds that many tribe members and executives serve on community boards, including that of the Ronald McDonald House and the Olive Crest foster care program, both in Spokane, as two examples.

"The tribe looks at it as a partnership, not just a check, but how can we partner with your organization," Holmes says. "We get to know people, and events, and do networking. We get to know the real needs in the community. It's funny how small Spokane is."

The Kalispel Tribe's reservation is located along the Pend Oreille River about 55 miles north of Spokane. The tribe has just over 430 enrolled members, about a third living on the reservation, another third based in the Spokane area, and the rest living elsewhere in the U.S.

The tribe also owns 240 acres of reservation land on the west bank of the river north of Cusick, and about 300 acres of land in Airway Heights, including 40 acres of trust land designated for gaming.

Today, Holmes says a total of 2,250 people are employed by the tribe.

Treva Lind
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