Shoalwater Bay is a tribal community much like any group, tribe, country, or sovereign nation with many of the same problems and challenges. At the same time, the tribe faces major obstacles that have gone unexplored and unaddressed due to destructive cycles and internal conflicts; ways of coping that are rooted in a long history of societal trauma that continues to influence the present.

To meet these challenges Shoalwater Bay ancestors put in writing what they would like to achieve and what was needed. These principles were placed in the hands of elected leaders who were required to work towards and achieve the goals given them in the Shoalwater Bay Constitution. In this way Tribal Council were entrusted with key powers and responsibilities to provide accountability and to enforce the Constitution.

Constitutional Principles vs. On the Ground Practice:

Over the years, Constitutional responsibilities have rarely been realized in practice, including the exercise of Council powers as originally intended. The necessity of survival in the early days of the reservation system severely limited other Constitutional obligations, especially the preservation of peace within the community, ensuring a healthy and supportive work environment, protecting tribal member rights, and maintaining health and safety standards within the community.

The Aim of the For Our Future series of investigations:

The current focus is aimed at exploring obstacles to achieving Constitutional goals with an eye toward understanding the present to help create a foundation for potential improvements. Despite the many problems the Tribe has experienced from time to time, it would be shortsighted to deny or diminish the remarkable success the tribe has experienced. We have come a long way from a very high point when our coastal lands, resources, culture, and way of life sustained our ancestors, then through the near extinction of everything our people held as valuable, to extreme poverty and the necessity of focusing on survival at the expense of nearly all else.

In the next stage the tribe fought to establish a formally recognized reservation, rebuild an economy, and establish modern tribal institutions. These impressive accomplishments were achieved by tenacious and forward-looking tribal leaders and ancestors who were assisted by dedicated administrators, managers, employees, and business institutions.

An Unbroken Cycle:

At the same time the Shoalwater Bay Tribe was building financially successful business enterprises and developing institutions of behalf of the tribal community, the old focus on raw survival above all else continued. Years of conditioning, much like the boarding school experience, have overshadowed many other possibilities now open to the tribe. As a result, even today though the tribe’s financial condition has broadened, in terms of mental attitude and practice the reservation continues an uphill battle to maintain a healthy sovereign state.

Intense rivalries for “scarce” assets persist among tribal members and the leadership, resulting in prolonged maneuvering for resources and position, including attempts to close out “opponents.” Whether these rivalries take the form of a preference for on reservation against off reservation tribal members, or to maintain a favored position over the uncertainty that equity (fairness, impartiality, and justice) and change can bring. This way of approaching the Shoalwater Bay Tribe’s success has placed those who have most benefited from the tribe’s financial achievement as a small but vocal fraction of the wider tribal community, while many other tribal members remain disenfranchised, impoverished, and sidelined.

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