New tribal vice chairman wants to serve her people by continuing economic development and preserving sovereignty

March 23, 2017

 

Tishmall Turner was recently elected vice chairman of the Rincon tribe. In that capacity, she attended President Trump’s inaugural and met with the new Secretary of the Interior designate Ryan Zinke and the White House Tribal Advisor.

She also attended the inaugural ball sponsored by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. Like many members of Indian Country, Turner is closely watching the new administration for signs of whether it will be pro or anti-Indian, or somewhere in between.

Tishmall (which means “hummingbird”)  grew up on the reservation and lived most of her life there. She attended local schools and graduated from Orange Glen High School. She obtained a BA and Master’s in business administration. She attended college at Palomar Community College and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the University of Phoenix.

Her day job is as tribal liaison at Cal State University San Marcos. As she describes it, “I serve as the point of contact for tribes hoping to work with the university and to the university to expand its initiative to tribes. She personally advises the president of the university on these matters, and is the first of only two such advisers in the Cal State system.

She has worked about twenty years in Indian Country. “I bring a lot to the table for relationship building and working with people in socioeconomic development,” she says.

Her goal as vice chairwoman is “to continue economic and social development for all of our tribal members and to continue to build programs that are centered on the welfare and safety of not only the reservation but the surrounding communities.” She points out that the Rincon Tribal Fire Dept. station answers mainly off-reservation calls: 98% are not on Rincon.

“We continue to build on those successes,” she says. “We support our local school district, Rotary, Palomar Health; we help anyone who lives in this area. We think that’s beneficial.”

One of her goals as vice chairman is to promote economic diversity. Like many tribes, Rincon sees the wisdom of not putting all the tribe’s economic eggs in the gaming basket. So, not so long ago the tribe opened the Travel Plaza and became the first tribe in America to own a 7-11 franchise. Last fall it opened SR-76, the first tribal brewery in San Diego County, which operates near Harrah’s Southern California Resort’s porte-cochere entrance.

“We are working on opening an RV park within the next two years,” she said. The facility will have room for about 100 spaces and have the attendant amenities associated with such a business.

The tribe is also invested in several manufacturing companies, mainly in the Western U.S. One manufactures off-road ATV’s, another manufactures cordage (i.e. rope) and a third manufactures plastic cards.

“We have to be diversified and take advantage of any business that promotes and maintains sovereignty as a tribe,” she says. “I grew up when we didn’t have gaming.” She grew up and got her education, but always knew that she wanted to come back and serve her tribe:

“I wanted to make my community a better place.”

Turner is an avid outdoorswoman who likes to golf, hike at Mammoth, go to the beach and be the auntie to her nieces and nephews. She has written children’s books in her tribe’s language, books that have been illustrated by a local Luiseño artist. She doesn’t speak Luiseño, but relied on a member of the tribe who did speak the language to help put her words into that tongue.

“I believe in uniting our tribal membership and share common goals that will preserve the tribe for generations to come. I believe our language, culture and education are crucial to maintaining our sovereignty,” she says.

Although she is new to the tribal council she is not new to serving her tribe. For the last eight years, she has been vice chairman of the tribal economic corporation, which oversees business ventures outside of the casino. She was also donations chairman of the Donations and Sponsorship Committee that she describes as “the tribe’s PR arm” for six years.

Because she can’t wear two hats, she is resigning from both positions to serve solely on the tribal council.

“It’s an exciting time to be in a leadership role for Rincon because we are achieving such great success. We’re planning a new tribal administration building in June, which will be near the fire station.”

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