Saturday, May 31, 2008

Freedmen have opened the Flood Gates

Banished Snoqualmie file civil-rights lawsuit

By Lynda V. Mapes

Seattle Times staff reporter

Nine banished members of the Snoqualmie tribe have filed a federal lawsuit in the latest round of an ongoing fight for control of the tribe, poised to open one of the state's most lucrative gambling casinos this fall.

Tossed out in April, the banished members, including the tribal chairman, several council members and a minister of the Indian Shaker Church, filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, claiming violation of their civil rights.

Named in the suit are the Snoqualmie council members who banished them, stripping them of their tribal identity; barring them from tribal lands, and cutting them off from any tribal benefits, including health-care services.

"This is a sad, sad time," said banished tribal member Lois Sweet Dorman. "This was supposed to be a time to celebrate together; the promise of prosperity to enable us to provide for our people. We worked so hard for our sovereignty. Most of us are elders of this tribe; this action is unbelievably harsh and cruel."

In the suit, attorney Rob Roy Smith of Seattle said the banishments should be overturned because his clients' liberties were illegally restrained by violation of the Indian Civil Rights Act. Passed by Congress in 1968, the act is intended to safeguard the fundamental civil rights of tribal members, such as their right to due process, free speech and peaceable assembly.

The banished had no opportunity to confront their accusers or exercise their right to free speech, and were unlawfully accused of "treason" and meeting as an "illegal shadow government" in violation of their right to peaceable assembly, according to the suit. They are also denied their liberty in being barred them from tribal lands and services, the suit stated.

Matt Mattson, tribal administrator, declined to respond except by e-mail on Friday: "The tribe is not aware of the suit and really cannot comment without knowing more details. As a general matter, however, it is a settled principle of federal law that membership is an internal sovereign matter over which the courts do not have jurisdiction."

In earlier written statements, the new leadership of the council said that some of the banished council members did not have the necessary blood quantum to be Snoqualmie tribal members, and that there were "serious irregularities" with the election in which the four took office last May.

Some 43 members of the tribe — many related to those council members — have since had their enrollment status "clarified" in letters sent by the tribal enrollment officer, stating they don't have the necessary 1/8 Snoqualmie blood to either hold office or vote, though they are still eligible for tribal benefits.

The Snoqualmie are a small tribe with fewer than 700 members. It was federally recognized in 1999 and obtained a reservation in 2006.

It intends to open what promises to be one of the most profitable casinos, located just off Interstate 90 — an enterprise the banished were also accused of not supporting.

The dispute flared up after the banished went to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in March, declaring the tribe was in constitutional crisis because its government had been illegally taken over last September by the new leaders of the tribal council.
"They are the shadow government," said Sharon Frelinger, one of the banished council members.

"They are the ones who have acted illegally and inappropriately. We have continued to meet, and we are going to continue to look at what our options are. We don't have any intention of dropping it. They are an illegal government and acting as such. I think they should be stopped."

Frelinger said she felt she had no choice but to file suit. "It's kind of like a Third World country where you get new leadership, and they kill off the old. That is exactly what they have done, and I just find that horrid."

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or