Redding Rancheria’s CEO, Tracy Edwards
By Jordan Venema
Sharing the Vision
Story by Jordan Venema
Photos by James Mazzotta
MORE THAN just the Win-River Resort and Casino, the Redding Rancheria is also the tribal land of the Wintun, Achomawi and Yana Indians. Located between Redding and Anderson, this 30-acre reservation is just a fraction of their ancestral home, but remains a center for their culture and tradition.
Tracy Edwards, the CEO of Redding Rancheria, may not have grown up on the Rancheria, but she calls it home. Her mother was raised there, and her grandmother was an elder of the tribe.
“She was one of our original distributees,” says Edwards, explaining how in the 1950s and ‘60s, the California Rancheria Termination Acts essentially ended tribes in California.
“The Rancheria was divided and sold off into parcels,” continues Edwards, “but our tribe was re-established in 1983. My grandmother was still living on the Rancheria during its re-recognition and we call those people elders.”
Edwards graduated from Anderson High School then attended UCLA, where she studied political science with a minor in philosophy. “When I left to go to school, I’ll be honest, I did not intend to return,” she says. But as Edwards prepared to enter law school, she became pregnant with her first of three children, and something shifted.
“Literally the day I found out I was pregnant, I couldn’t figure out quick enough how to get back home.” Maybe it was the tug of family or tradition, but Edwards attended law school at UC Davis to be closer to home, and after graduating became the Rancheria’s tribal attorney.
She says with a laugh that she knew nothing as a new lawyer, “but I was fortunate because my tribe had faith in me. They brought me in and basically I acquired my experience by working on the job.”
Serving as tribal lawyer was a unique experience for Edwards, since the tribe has civil jurisdiction on the reservation.
“So I could write laws and be part of developing civil laws in the Rancheria,” says Edwards, who took on an almost legislative role in addition to attorney.
“It was the best job in the world,” says Edwards. “How many lawyers get to actually write laws?”
And Edwards wasn’t just writing laws for a client, but laws that would impact the future of her community and family.
“Everything we do, we do for the second generation,” says Edwards, who was motivated by the question, “What would this law mean for my grandkids’ grandkids?”
Today, Edwards serves the Rancheria as its CEO, a position she says she didn’t expect.
“It’s nothing I went to school for or intended to do, and it’s more about the people.”
Edwards adds that in addition to her role as CEO, both the CFO and COO are women, as was the CEO before her.
“I think that’s unique,” she says, though she adds that some tribes are matriarchal. “But I think it’s also unique in the bigger scheme of the world and the nation that our three top executives are all women. And I’m proud of that.”
Men or women leading, the Rancheria serves its 260-member tribal community, but also strives to serve the broader community, which perhaps is natural for a community whose heritage extends well beyond the 30 acres of the Rancheria.
“We consider all of California our ancestral land,” Edwards says. “We’ll always be here. Also, we live in the community, because there are only 30 acres on the Rancheria. And our tribal elders and family members worked in the area, worked in the fields.”
Edwards strives to include the broader community in the general plan of the Rancheria, “and if we’re going to invite the community into the Rancheria, we need to share our vision with them,” she says. “We have really worked hard to be a part of the community and explain what we are doing and including the community in our strategic plan … and for the most part, people trust that we have the best of the community at heart.”
Offering an example, Edwards continues, “not only do we have a clinic that serves the Native American population in our area, and currently we have about 17,000 active patients (though only about 260 tribal members), but we also just opened a clinic that sees medical patients regardless whether they’re native or non-native.”
The Rancheria also opened a clinic in Weaverville that serves native and non-native alike.
“That’s been very satisfying,” says Edwards, “to serve a population of people that don’t always get the respect or care that they deserve. That’s very important to us, that we can do that with good doctors, and get people the care they need.
“And once you get to know each other, you find out that we’re really not all that different,” she adds.
It was something of a plot twist that Edwards, who had not intended to return to the Rancheria, now serves as its CEO. But in retrospect, her decision seems absolutely natural.
“Every month, we take our elders to dinner, and I’m very lucky. The culture of the tribe allows me to have that closeness to family and extended family. I get to see my aunts and uncles and cousins and my mom,” says Edwards. “I am very fortunate.” •