With acknowledgment that gaming is essential for the Nez Perce Tribe, the tribe’s enterprises executive spoke of the difficulties of the pandemic and coming months while looking forward to the future of growth for tribal enterprises.
Nez Perce Tribal Enterprises Executive Officer Kermit Mankiller updated the tribe on plans for its businesses through the remainder of the pandemic, the casinos’ closure last spring, the cyber attack at the casinos in October, plans for Riverside Sport Shop, employee makeup and a business park planned for Spalding in a lengthy presentation during the tribe’s fall General Council information session Friday morning.
Mankiller said tribal enterprises took out a paycheck protection loan from the federal government that makes its financials look worse than they are, as the fiscal year ended in September and he expects the loan to be forgiven by the end of the year.
He cited the essential function of gaming as the reason the casinos remain open even now as COVID-19 cases spike in the region.
Before the pandemic, growth of the tribal enterprises was at 38 percent since Mankiller was hired as the executive officer in 2017. The goal of the gaming operation is to make $10 million a year.
“We’ve still got several months that are going to be difficult, that are going to be challenging,” Mankiller said, noting the pandemic is not going away soon.
Addressing concerns expressed during the first day of the General Council, Mankiller noted that the tribal enterprises have 301 employees, 134 are Nimiipuu, 53 are from other Native American tribes, 16 are descendants and 98 are non-Native American. He also pointed out that most of the executive management team are tribal members and each member of the executive management team has a tribal member who is working as an understudy for the position.
NPTE employs 193 people at its Clearwater River Casino near Lewiston; 45 people at its It’se Ye-Ye Casino in Kamiah; 34 at its Red Wolf Golf Club in Clarkston; seven at its Camas Express near Winchester; and one full-time and one part-time employee at Zim’s Hot Springs near New Meadows.
NPTE is focused on the core operations and capabilities and is working on creating opportunities for tribal members to move upward or laterally in their jobs. The goal is to eventually have a $15 minimum wage, and NPTE is focused on jobs that require STEM, CTEC and management jobs for tribal members.
Mankiller sympathized with new college graduates who are having a hard time finding a job in their field with the tribe. He said he spent 25 years “out in the world to find the type of employment that matched” his education.
“We need MBAs and entrepreneurs,” Mankiller said. He said the goal of the NPTE sounds dull, but it is that tribal members can get married, have a family and buy a home.
Several questions Thursday revolved around a the tribe’s 2018 purchase of Riverside Sport Shop near Orofino. Mankiller said the site is planned to be a third casino site. Progress on the site has been slowed by the pandemic, but demolition and construction could begin next month or in January. The site will also be an opportunity for the tribe to promote its tribal fishing licenses, he said.
A business park at Spalding is in the works and two potential tenants have committed to locating at the park. NPTE has received a $500,000 Indian Community Development Block Grant and is pursuing $4 million in economic development administration grants. Mankiller said the business park would have a better name than “Business Park at Spalding” in the future.
Mankiller did not discuss much about the cyber attack that shuttered the two casinos in October, except to say it was a malware attack and that they were “still trying to mop up from that.” The casinos are still not totally recovered from the attack, but he expected them to be back at 100 percent soon.
“I’m comfortable going forward that we are more prepared,” Mankiller said.
Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Treasurer Casey Mitchell fielded a question about when or if the tribe was going to build a grocery store in Lapwai. Mitchell stressed nothing was concrete about a tribal grocery store that would feature lower prices and elk, deer, buffalo meat and other traditional tribal foods, but there were efforts to find a place for a grocery store.
Nez Perce Tribe interim Executive Director Jesse Leighton reported on the tribal government’s departments and how the tribe has spent its CARES Act money. The tribe spent $4.38 million, or 26.4 percent, on department projects and facilities; $4.2 million, or 25.5 percent, on economic assistance to members; $2.68 million, or 16.2 percent, on PPE, emergency leave and hazard pay; $1.78 million, or 10.7 percent, on Enterprises, Nimiipuu Health and Nimiipuu Community Development Fund; $478,500, or 2.9 percent, on laptops for minors; $405,000, or 2.4 percent, on elder assistance; and has a little more than $2.6 million, or 15.9 percent, held in reserve. The funding must be spent by the end of the year or be returned to the federal government.
The tribe had secured grant funding for a detective and an investigator for domestic violence for the next five years and a child welfare investigator for the next three years, Nez Perce Law and Justice Executive Director Jesse Filkins Jr. said. The tribe still has to hire people for the positions. Nez Perce Tribal Police were in the process of renovating the police department, and an emergency operations center and detention cells will be added using CARES funding, Filkins said.
The Law and Justice Building in Kamiah is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, Filkins said. Kamiah Court will begin in the spring, with criminal and civil hearings held one day a month at the facility.
Someone watching the livestream Friday said the woman who was recently killed at a residence near Kamiah had gone to the tribe’s women’s outreach and was turned away two days before she was found dead.
NPTEC Human Resources Subcommittee Chairwoman Rachel Edwards said when people come to tribal services, those should remain in confidence. “It’s tragic, I don’t know what happened,” she added.
A Nez Perce woman, who has only been identified by the initials B.A.B. by tribal police and the FBI, was found dead at a residence near Kamiah on Oct. 31. Nez Perce Tribal Police have arrested Travis Ellenwood and there is a federal indictment for strangulation against him.
“This happened right underneath my nose,” NPTEC Law and Order Subcommittee Chairman Arthur Broncheau said, noting he lived near where the woman was found. “This has been going on for a long time, the person reached out and was not helped.”
Broncheau called for the tribe’s departments to work together and create a record when people seek assistance. He wanted the departments to coordinate faster than they do to prevent tragedies in the future.
“A slow process is like to me, gasping for breath,” Broncheau said. “You have a limited time before you are gone, so I would like to see more of our programs working together. If we have any person reaching out, that we stay on top of it and that way the person will receive assistance from different entities with their problems.”
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