Tribe begins housing development at former Canoe Journey site

The Nisqually Indian Tribe has begun the first phase of a major housing development at the site where it hosted a weeklong potlatch for the 2016 Canoe Journey. Interns are building the first home, set to be completed soon.
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The Nisqually Indian Tribe has begun the first phase of a major housing development at the site where it hosted a weeklong potlatch for the 2016 Canoe Journey. Interns are building the first home, set to be completed soon.
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For Nisqually tribe, a house that’s more than a home

March 17, 2017 05:09 PM

It’s a three-bedroom, 1,506-square-foot new construction rambler on the Nisqually Indian Reservation.

And, oh, it’s so much more than that.

It’s the first structure in a major development slated to bring 60 single-family homes and duplexes and a 40-unit apartment complex to the tiny reservation near Yelm, about 15 miles east of Olympia. The tribe also wants to develop a 6-acre park, a health clinic, an elder care center and a church on the property.

Many of the energy efficient homes will be built for the tribal elders, officials say.

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“Housing is a high priority with this council, and we are committed to building affordable houses, apartments and duplexes,” Nisqually chairman Farron McCloud said. “We have a long list of 150 tribal members that are in need of affordable housing.”

The development is on a 40-acre site that was cleared for last summer’s Canoe Journey, which brought thousands of people to Nisqually for a weeklong potlatch. The celebration, which was also called Canoe Journey protocol event, included food, dancing, drumming, gift-giving and cultural sharing by dozens of tribes from the region and Canada.

“It was our plan to build these homes on the protocol site and retain parts of the community gathering space,” McCloud said. “We’re finishing up getting architects and contractors lined up, as well as the finances, and we hope to be starting that first complex of apartments soon.”

Crews began working on the first house in October, and are scheduled to put the finishing touches on it in the upcoming weeks.

The house is being built by a crew of nine interns who are learning on-the-job carpentry skills, such as foundation work, framing and drywall installation.

“It’s stuff that I grew up wanting to learn,” said intern Danny French of Tumwater. “I’ve always loved construction.”

Eventually, the interns will be able to lead other construction projects, said Housing Intern Superintendent Keith Brent, who has worked in the trade for 34 years and owns a contracting business.

“The goal is to have all natives helping natives build their own homes,” he said. “The more we can get trained, the less we have to sub out to other companies. We’re trying to learn how to do it ourselves.”

The first home is on target to be built with a turn-key budget of $136,000 to $139,000, Brent said. It features LED lighting, extra insulation and other energy efficient features designed to help keep down costs for future renters, he said.

If crews can stick to the budget, every fifth house in the development will essentially be built for free, Brent said.

Tandy Squally said he’s enjoyed the internship, and he’s glad his tribe is building more homes so that people who live off the reservation can return to it, if they want. Plus, the development is providing jobs.

“We’ve got enough work to last us for the next 10 years,” Squally said. “I think it’s great.”

Squally has participated in the Canoe Journey the past 17 years, and has been a skipper for the past four or five years. He said the protocol site was blessed by the Canoe Journey participants, and is now considered sacred ground.

He said thinks of that often when he’s working on the house.

“I can still hear the songs that are still going,” Squally said. “They never left, they just got a lot little bit quieter, but they never left. All of the songs and stuff are still playing in my head.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton