Bob Iyall Becomes Nisqually Tribal Member of Highest Elected Position

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Bob Iyall, the chief executive officer of the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s Medicine Creek Enterprises, won the race for Olympia port commissioner after his opponent, Jessie W. Simmons, conceded last week.

Iyall will hold the highest elected position any Nisqually tribal member has ever held outside of the tribe itself.

“This is the first time that I’ve ever run for public office,” Iyall said. “I’d never even considered it before. It’s been a lot of fun. I mean, that was my approach to it. I really felt like I’m the qualified candidate and I know I can do that job.”

He said he’s been able to meet some incredible people he wouldn’t otherwise have met along his campaign trail, adding that being a commissioner will be a good thing for him, the Nisqually Indian Tribe and outlying communities in Thurston County.

Iyall thinks the port can work better at collaboration as well as refocus its purpose of the county’s economic development as it transitions through the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s called the Port of Olympia, but really they’re responsible for creating economic development and opportunities for all of Thurston County,” he said. “The port has certainly been involved with some of the communities and their events, but I’m just not certain that we’re fulfilling that purpose of economic development opportunities throughout the county. So that’s really my focus, is being a voice for those outlying communities.”

He said in addition to the three tribes that operate within the port’s scope, communities like Yelm, Rainier, Tenino and Bucoda all need to be represented fully by the port and he will work to do that.

Working on behalf of the tribes and the outlying communities, Iyall said he would be a voice for economic development and partnerships throughout the region.

He also said the port should rely less on property taxes to fund its initiatives.

“The port is a municipal corporation, and they operate on the revenue they can generate, but they also rely on tax revenue,” Iyall said. “Tax revenue comes from everybody who owns property in Thurston County … to support the Port of Olympia. For my point of view on the municipal corporation, we shouldn’t be quite so reliant on tax. We should improve efficiencies at the operations level and my plan is to reduce the tax burden on Thurston County taxpayers.”

David Iyall, the treasurer of the Nisqually Tribal Council as well as Bob Iyall’s brother, said the Nisqually Tribe will back Bob Iyall’s platform.

“A lot of Bob’s platform is environmental,” David Iyall said. “He wants to keep the Puget Sound nice and clean. And he wants to help small businesses. The tribe is definitely behind him in those two aspects right there.”

David Iyall said his brother’s new position is “really big for the tribe.”

“His use of natural resources and promoting small business … helps get the tribe’s message across. It helps get our story out to all these other people that we see everyday,” David Iyall said.

He said the tribe’s interests lie partially in the telling of its story, and how far it has come, a story that’s not taught in Washington state schools’ curriculum.

The story the tribe wants Bob Iyall’s position to help convey involves the Nisqually people being forced onto a reservation when the United States installed Washington state in the region.

“There’s of course massacres that happened to our people at that time on reservations,” David Iyall said. “We were forced onto a reservation and then had two thirds of our reservation condemned by Fort Lewis to create a military base. Today, our reservation is across the river from where they test their bombing, their firing range, so we’re continually being bombarded with bombing noise. It’s like we’re being attacked every day.”

He said that while Bob Iyall will not necessarily be the messenger of the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s past hardships in his role as commissioner, he will certainly be a storyteller in the context of the tribe’s future success.

“I think Bob’s role is his own role. He ran on his own with his own platform,” David Iyall said. “His role is to … tell where we’re at now, us going forward. We’ve come a long way since the history.”

As of Sunday, Nov. 21, Bob Iyall received 35,198 votes in the Nov. 2 general election to Simmons’ 32,358, or a disparity of about 4% of the total 67,989 votes counted.

With the election being certified on Tuesday, Nov. 23, Bob Iyall will begin his work as commissioner in the new year.

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