Tribal Chairman and Executive Director
Peninsula College, Washington
By Evelyn Kent
He only wanted to play basketball. He had lost his tribal basketball card on a fishing trip and went to the Jamestown-S’Klallam tribal offices to replace it. Now 28 years later, Ron Allen, tribal chairman and executive director, still sounds bemused by the fact that he left that day on the tribal council.
“The bottom line was I just got involved and learned to do what I had to do to get the job done,” Allen said.
Allen graduated from Peninsula College in 1978. While a student, he became the chairman of the tribe. He was 24. He went on earn a double bachelor’s in political science and economics from the University of Washington in 1983 while acting as the part-time executive director of the S’Klallam. Upon graduation he became the full-time executive director; he now was both the administrative and political leader of the tribe.
He first priority was clear. “I started pushing real hard to help our tribe become self-reliant,” he said.
Under Allen’s leadership, the federal government formally recognized the Jamestown-S’Klallam tribe in 1981. There were 228 members with a 7 ½ acre reservation. The tribe established a small office in the community of Sequim, Wash., and in 1983 bought an additional 2 acres upon which it built a community center for tribal meetings.
Although the government did not assist the tribe in establishing a land base, the recognition made the tribe eligible for federal grants. It set about applying for grants from Housing and Urban Development and the Bureau of Indian Affairs as seed money for economic development projects.
“We took a very methodical and deliberate approach to generate our own resource base,” Allen said.
Apparently it worked.
“Our current operations are about $10 million a year,” he said. Ventures include a casino, an excavation company, real estate holdings and an Indian art gallery. The Jamestown S’Klallam just purchased a commercial electric company based out of Seattle.
In addition, “We’ve strengthened our government operations,” Allen said. The tribe has ordinance and land use zones, committees that oversee natural resources, a board that provides oversight for all economic development activities – in short all the trappings of a successful government.
Now the tribe has a 350-acre base and almost 600 members. “It’s allowed us to become much more active politically and effective at advancing and protecting our interests,” Allen said.
Compared to colleague tribes, Allen said, “We believe that we’ve done quite well.”
Allen feels his education “provided some fundamental skills” and knowledge such as how the political system works. “I kind of grew into it. At 24 you know only so much. I just got engaged and started learning as I went.”
Energy, endless energy and a willingness to plug away helped Allen start gaining on his goals. “On the one hand they needed energy to help out … and then my skills just enhanced and amplified to make this energy more effective to allow us to move quickly and faster towards our goals.”
Some of those skills he learned at Peninsula College, where he was the student body president for two years. “I have nothing but the fondest memories for Peninsula College. It’s always been a great campus that has taken great pride in its curriculum and its learning environment.”
Since graduation Allen served on Peninsula’s foundation board, and he is currently working with the college to establish a long house for the Indian community.
Today his passion to see the tribe move forward fuels him. “I really believe we can accomplish the goals of providing quality health care, education, job opportunities and housing assistance, while we’re providing management oversight over our treaty resources of hunting and fishing."
“I think that the course that we’re on is the correct course for achieving self-reliance," Allen said. “S’Klallam means strong people, and our people take it very seriously and proudly.”