Monica Miller was born and raised on the Puyallup Tribe’s reservation and has served the Tribe for more than 40 years, seeing it and helping it grow from having only a small dental trailer to what it is today.
She began working for the Tribe as a 14-year-old youth worker at the Hawthorne School, which stood on the site of what is now the Tacoma Dome. Beginning in 1977, while she was a student at Stadium High School, she would attend classes till noon and then catch a bus over to the Tribe’s brown, two-story administration building that used to stand where the cemetery is today. She started with the Tribe’s Administration as Ramona Bennett’s receptionist and a few months later transferred to working for Barbara Richards in Enrollment.
“The Puyallup Tribe established an Administration Building in 1975,” she said. “Before then, we used to meet in each other’s houses and at the Indian church.”
As an Enrollment employee in the mid-1970s, she helped gather Tribal Members known to be Puyallup and encouraged them to enroll with the Tribe. She also helped circulate the petition among Tribal Members in 1988 for what became the historic Puyallup Land Claims Settlement. “All that took place while I was a young adult,” Councilwoman Miller said.
She also served on the Enrollment Committee, where she was the only person in the group who could drive a car. All committee members were Elders except for Barbara Richards and her. She would pick up everyone and go to meetings and workshops with them as far as California and New Orleans.
“It was nice to be a guide for these Elders,” she said.
She also served on the Enrollment Committee, Housing Committee and the board of Puyallup International Inc. Over 40 years, she gained experience in a variety of departments and jobs within the Tribe:
- Youth worker
- Tribal Administration receptionist
- Enrollment secretary, administrative assistant, assistant director
- Law Office secretary
- Tribal Council secretary
- Per Capita / Low Income Housing Energy Assistance program director
- Enrollment / Per Capita assistant director
- Per Capita / RPP director
Work was a constant. Most of her life she worked two jobs, usually a main job at the Tribe on weekdays and then nights and weekends elsewhere. She did it to make ends meet and put food on the table. She had married in May 1978, had a child in April 1979 and became a single mother in 1986. She later fostered children and adopted two Tribal children.
Over the years, she gained work experience at many different businesses:
- BJ’s Bingo
- The Tribe’s smokeshop on Pioneer Way
- Micro Dome Bingo
- Muckleshoot Bingo
- Selling fireworks
- Mega Foods
Mega Foods gave her experience working outside the Tribe. She started at the store in 1985, and when she left 11 years later to go full-time at the Tribe, she had advanced to become a grocery store manager and a fully vested member of the union.
She brought her varied work experience back to the Tribe. In Enrollment, she made sure Members received the monthly benefits they were due, and that their money was secure. She created and served as the director of the Per Capita Department and gave out 18-year-olds’ trust money and kept accounting records on the trust. In 2011, after seeing Elders, vulnerable adults and vulnerable children being taken advantage of, she created and became director of the Department of the Representative Payee, which exists to protect Tribal beneficiaries and their financial assets from exploitation, and for Members who want help with bill-paying and other financial transactions. She also helped with fundraisers for cancer patients and later helped start a Cancer Committee for the Tribe
On Aug. 1, 2020, she was elected to the Puyallup Tribal Council. Her priorities are clear:
- That children get the best education and training
- That Elders have the best housing and health care
- That the Tribe continues to grow its economic development and diversification to make the other priorities possible.
“My mission is always to work for the Tribal members to make sure our assets, our per capitas, fish and waters, our lands, roots and berries, our sovereign rights – everything – is protected,” Councilmember Miller said.
Since her election to Tribal Council, the Tribe has embarked on new business ventures to help bring financial security to future generations. It opened two more Commencement Bay Cannabis stores, launched a venture with Amazon, bought two restaurants on prime waterfront property along Ruston Way in Tacoma, bought a church for conversion into a long-needed funeral home, undertook development of port property and began a venture with Kenmore Air to bring seaplanes to the Tribe’s home waters. Tribal Council and the economic development team have also prioritized vocational training for Chief Leschi high school students and young adults.
“My hands go up to our economic development team. Along with Tribal Council they have started projects we never could have done years ago,” she said. “I thank each and every one on the team for bringing their knowledge, credibility and dedication to making sure our future generations survive and thrive. Tribal Council could not do this without you.”