Elder members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs oppose the planned closing of Kah-Nee-Ta Resort & Spa and plan to let their tribal leaders know through a protest Saturday.
“The people were the last to know it was going to close here,” said Mike Clements, president of the Elder Council. “The closure, we think, is unnecessary. We want to push on our leaders to consider these other options we have as a tribe.”
Kah-Nee-Ta filed a notice with the state of Oregon on July 6 the resort would close for good after Labor Day and that all 146 employees would lose their jobs. Most people who work at the resort are tribal members, Clements said.
Tribal members were told during a meeting in October that Kah-Nee-Ta might have to close, but that was the last anyone heard on the matter before this month, Clements said. The tribal council has not been holding regular district or general meetings, he said.
Tribal Chairman Austin Greene Jr. could not be reached Thursday. Alyssa Macy, chief operations manager for the tribes, has not responded to multiple inquiries from The Bulletin.
Kah-Nee-Ta was required to give a 60-day notice of the closing under federal law, but Clements said that doesn’t mean the tribal council should go along with the plan put in motion by the resort’s board of directors.
The Elder Council’s prayer service will start at 8 a.m., Saturday at the Kah-Nee-Ta lodge and conclude with a march to the Village area, which features a double Olympic-size pool fed by hot springs.
The Elder Council is a six-member body created by a show of hands during a longhouse meeting on another issue: how Warm Springs would use its $7.5 million share of a $940 million federal court settlement, Clements said. The elders successfully lobbied the tribal council to distribute most of the money in cash to tribal members, he said.
Kah-Nee-Ta is not self-sustaining, according to an unsigned letter that was included in the July 6 notice. The closure is “necessary to ensure we protect any further risk to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs,” the letter says.
The tribal council has asked Kah-Nee-Ta’s managers to keep searching for an option that would make the resort self-sustaining.
Clements, a past tribal council member and operations manager, said Kah-Nee-Ta has always required a subsidy from one of the other businesses on the Warm Springs Reservation. First, it was supported by the lumber mill, and then Indian Head Casino.
The casino was moved to U.S. Highway 26, leaving the remote resort without a major attraction. Kah-Nee-Ta has deteriorated since the tribe uncoupled the casino and resort operations, Clements said, but he doesn’t think closing is the answer.
“If you mothball a building, it deteriorates pretty fast,” Clements said. “The cost to reopen it is going to be very costly.”
Tribal members have various ideas for reinvigorating Kah-Nee-Ta, he said.
One was to offer helicopter skiing on Mount Jefferson, he said. Others involve opening the Warm Springs back country to tourists for hiking or horseback riding.