While economic development and job opportunities are expected to abound in the future, Lummi leaders are also aware they have to address an issue that’s widespread now: poverty.
In 2000, according to Census figures, the per capita income of Lummis living on the reservation was $10,054, compared to the $20,025 per capita income for Whatcom County as a whole. Some Lummi officials estimate 25 percent of all people living on the reservation today live in poverty.
In 2003, however, Lummi Nation was selected by the Minnesota-based Northwest Area Foundation to participate in its Ventures Program, which encourages communities to develop poverty-reduction strategies. If selected as a final participant in the program — which the tribe should find out by next spring — Lummi would receive $10 million over the next 10 years to help implement its strategies.
“If we could increase the amount of access to resources for everybody, then we could make a difference,” said Gloria Point, Community Liaison for the program.
Since being contacted by the foundation, more than 1,000 tribal members and others living on the reservation have participated in identifying causes of poverty and drafting goals and strategies to eliminate it. A final 10-year poverty reduction plan is due to the foundation next month.
After sending out surveys, organizing focus groups, holding community meetings and even sending representatives to the beaches and woods to get opinions from as many people as possible, Point’s Lummi Ventures Program identified root causes of poverty as a loss of culture, lack of resources, racism and drug and alcohol abuse.
Committees were then formed to identify challenges and visions to strengthing those areas.
Currently, the tribe has identified more than 130 strategies that may lead to the elimination of poverty. They include:
Building a community center focused on strengthening Lummi culture and fostering a greater sense of community between tribal members.
Creating a mentoring program where elders and youngsters can learn from each other.
Helping people start their own businesses.
Holding healing circles, where families work together to bridge divisions between themselves and solve problems in the community.
“If we can get people knowing who they are culturally, and their ceremonies and history, then I think you can get spiritual healing,” Point said. “And while that’s happening, we’re building opportunities for economic development.”
And if Lummi isn’t selected for the grant?
“The big thing is that people have put their heart and souls into working on this plan and we’ve identified very specific issues,” Point said. “I think there are a lot of strategies that will go through whether or not the foundation funds us.”