Puyallup Tribe’s new fish processing plant is a path to self-sufficiency

Puyallup Tribe’s new fish processing plant is a path to self-sufficiency

By Sarah K. Bryant, Puyallup Tribal News

In a groundbreaking move toward self-sufficiency and preserving heritage, the Puyallup Tribe is celebrating the early stages of its newly acquired fish buying plant. In an exclusive interview with Tribal Councilman James Rideout and Joe McCloud, the Puyallup Tribal fish buy coordinator, we gain insight into the significance of this project and how it its already making a positive impact on the community.

Preserving traditions and ensuring sustainability

The Puyallup Tribe’s journey to establish this plant has been fueled by a deep-rooted desire to secure its future and honor traditions. Rideout, a longtime Tribal fisherman, reflects on the importance of this initiative.

“This plan is a dream come true for our Elders, people who have sacrificed everything to ensure that we, as a Tribe, have a sustainable path forward,” he says with enthusiasm.

This facility not only addresses the challenge of marketing fish in a saturated southern market but also empowers the Tribe to proudly label its products as Puyallup Tribe creations.

A multi-purpose facility for diverse needs

This facility, which is located in Fife and was once a produce facility spanning 11,800 square feet, is not limited to fish processing alone. As Rideout emphasizes, it’s a multi-purpose space designed to cater to various needs of the Tribe.

Beyond fish, the Tribe is actively working to farm geoduck, oysters and other species, all within a carefully planned facility that prevents cross-contamination. This well-thought-out design ensures smooth permitting processes and cutting costs that would have been incurred if starting from scratch.

Reclaiming Tribal lands and ensuring food security

One significant aspect of this project is the reclamation of Tribal lands. Purchasing this facility has allowed the Tribe to regain a piece of its reservation, marking a significant step in efforts to reclaim its homelands.

As Rideout passionately states, “It’s important that our kids have a future regardless of the challenges we face, and bringing back the returns of salmon and other species is vital for sustainable food sources.”

Supporting Fishermen and Sustaining Traditions

Joe McCloud, the Puyallup Tribal fish buyer, sheds light on the practical implications of this facility. The plant aims to support Puyallup fishermen by offering competitive prices. McCloud says that organizers are committed to ensuring that fishermen receive fair compensation. Beyond this, the plant serves a critical role in processing fish for the community’s Elders.

“I like doing the Elders’ delivery,” McCloud said “They’re always happy to see me, and I got to know a lot of the Elders, and they’re pretty happy to get that meat.”

The fish is also used for ceremonies, including funerals and naming ceremonies, and ensures that Tribal traditions remain vibrant.

The entire process and future expansion

The facility’s role extends to the entire process, from weighing fish to processing and delivering it. After the fishermen bring their catch it is weighed, and paperwork is completed. Fisheries biologists sample the fish, and the processing begins.

Fish is sent to Seattle for processing, including vacuum sealing and removal of pin bones, before being brought back to cold storage. Looking ahead, organizers have plans to expand facility capabilities by converting coolers into freezers in later phases, reducing reliance on external resources.

Integrating the plant with Tribal businesses

The Puyallup Tribe’s vision for the fish buying plant extends far beyond its walls, reaching into various aspects of their community, including the bustling Emerald Queen Casino and the Tribe’s restaurants. Rideout, with an unmistakable sense of pride, elaborates on the opportunities that will unfold in these establishments. This integration means that the Puyallup Tribe’s culinary offerings will soon feature its own catch, ensuring a direct connection between the fisherman and the plate.

Preparing for a Sustainable Legacy

The Emerald Queen Casino will play a pivotal role in this endeavor. “Yeah, there’ll be many opportunities in our casinos as well,” Rideout adds with enthusiasm. This not only augments job prospects for the Tribal members, but also bolsters the community’s economic prospects. It’s a testament to the holistic approach the Puyallup Tribe is taking toward revitalizing their traditions and securing their future.

Unifying Efforts and Looking Toward the Future

Rideout emphasizes the significance of this initiative for future generations, underscoring its logistical advantages.

The plan extends to Woven, the Tribe’s upcoming restaurant with celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi, offering the perfect setting to showcase live seafood products seasonally. It’s a seamless fusion of two cultures — Japanese and Tribal — coming together to create a seafood experience like no other.

As Rideout reflects on the past and the struggles faced by the Tribe, he is optimistic about the transformative impact of this initiative. The Tribe is not only reacquiring its homelands piece by piece, it is also investing in youth through vocational training programs. This ensures the facility prepares the younger generation to seamlessly step into these jobs, creating a sustainable legacy.

Paving the way for a brighter future

In a final thought, Rideout highlights the importance of communication and alignment within the Tribe. This project has the power to unify its efforts, bringing leadership, schools and the community together to work toward a common goal. The vision of self-sufficiency and cultural preservation is becoming a reality, and as the Puyallup Tribe takes this bold step, they pave the way for a brighter and more prosperous future.

Tribal Council statements

Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud: “Our Tribe’s acquisition of the fish processing plant marks a significant step towards self-reliance, preserving our traditions and ensuring a brighter future for our membership and community. This endeavor is not just about salmon and seafood; it’s about sustaining our way of life and nurturing our people.”

Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Sylvia Miller: “The Puyallup people are the fish people. We have been gifted from the Creator the land, air and water, and these are gifts that Native people take pride in. Preserving and protecting the traditional foods that we have always been able to feed our families is something we have always done. I fished on the river from a very young age and was always taught that you put back what you take. This fish processing plant is something our ancestors would take pride in and our future generations will benefit greatly from this.”

Tribal Councilwoman Annette Bryan: “Fishing people is who we are. It’s exciting to be able to have a place to process, store and eventually distribute our salmon and other treaty protected harvests.”

Tribal Councilwoman Anna Bean: “This fish processing plant will be another step towards the Tribe’s path to being self-sustainable.”

Tribal Councilwoman Monica Miller: “It is great to have this facility to be able to store and process our own fish, and store it to be used at a later date for funerals and ceremonies. This way, we will always have fish available. Soon, we can also process and store geoduck, crab and shrimp. In the future, we’re looking at being able to package and sell these things to our restaurants and casinos and get these products out there on the market.”

Tribal Councilman Fred Dillon: “I’m excited about our new fish buying plant, it has been something our fishermen and fisherwomen have needed since our people started selling our salmon. I can’t wait to see how great it’s going to be for all of our seafood.”