Friday, September 12, 2008

Ousted tribal members put their hopes in U.S. District Court judge

(I remind readers that the Cherokee Nation's struggle with the Freedmen is different than this case - the Freedmen are listed on official federal documents as having no Cherokee Blood and were former slaves of some Cherokee families - in some cases, so I've heard, they do not even have a Freedmen ancestor on those federal documents (this record is the Dawes Roll) their entire case is founded on the fact that they were slaves covered under the 1866 Treaty that John Ross made with the U.S. after the Civil War - the Freedmen issue has been around the Cherokee Nation for at least 5 generations or since those Civil War days, so it has NOTHING to do with any Cherokee Casinos - not to mention the fact that Cherokee's do not get per capita payments of casino moneys...all money is put to use for the benefit of the entire tribe - the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma likewise does not have a blood quantum requirement - but ever since the Cherokee have had a constitution it has been required that you have an Ancestor on that Dawes Roll for membership - that means your Cherokee Ancestor was on the Trail of Tears and was in Oklahoma when the Dawes Commission enrolled the Cherokee - the Cherokee also have their own sophisticated court system - when dealing with tribes - *one size fits all* is NOT the norm - tribes like states have their own local customs and way of dealing with internal tribal affairs - the BIA does hold Indians to a blood quantum standard however, regardless of what the tribal standard is - the Cherokee Nation likewise does not *bannish* folks from the Tribe)

Ousted tribal members put their hopes in U.S. District Court judge

September 11, 2008

By Ed Farrell

Carolyn Lubenau may no longer officially be a member of the Snoqualmie Tribe, but she’s not yet ready to give up the fight for her heritage.

Lubenau, along with eight other Snoqualmie, were formally banished from the tribe in April, for allegedly forming a “shadow government,” treason and other crimes.

Lubenau’s future in the tribe, along with all of her children and future
generations is now in the hands of a federal judge.

U.S. District Court Judge James L. Roberts is currently considering a challenge filed by Lubenau and other ousted members who claim the banishment violated their civil rights.

Lubenau, along with Tribal Chairman Bill T. Sweet, Marilee Mai, Sharon Frelinger, Vyonda Rose, Lois Sweet Dorman, Linda Sweet Baxter, Ben Sweet and Charles “Chuck” Willoughby – collectively known as the “Snoqualmie Nine,” — filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus in June.

The Snoqualmie Tribe has issued no formal statement regarding the action, and has long maintained that the banishments were an internal tribal matter that would not be discussed with the public.

In a recent telephone interview, Lubenau said she was pleased Roberts had even agreed to hear the case, as the tribe’s attorney argued the matter had no place in federal court.

“I was relieved the judge asked questions that went right to what the issues are: That under the Indian Civil Rights Act, tribal members are entitled to due process,” Lubenau said.

The ongoing fight has cast a shadow on the tribe’s long-anticipated grand opening of the Snoqualmie Casino – a now $375 million, 170,000-square-foot gambling establishment set to open Nov. 6 with 1,700 slot machines, more than 50 Las Vegas-style table games, several restaurants and live entertainment.

Lubenau and other ousted members have maintained that their banishment was rooted in an effort by non-tribal administrators and one close-knit family within the tribe to control casino revenues and how they are allocated to tribal members through a process known as per capita.

“There was never any talk of banishments or anything like that before people talked about the casino,” Lubenau said, calling the resulting actions typical of what other tribes who have gone into the gaming business have experienced.

“Look across the nation,” she said. “This is not happening to tribes whose claim to fame is making beautiful baskets. It’s all involving tribes operating casinos.”

While the tribe has maintained that the banishments were the result of illegal activities by the exiled members, Lubenau and others have frequently cited a number of members who were disenrolled – a lesser form of punishment that can include a member still receiving tribal benefits – due to what is termed “blood quantum” standards.

Simply put, blood quantum is the federally recognized standard for ascertaining direct lineage among tribal members by designating a percentage of tribal blood a member must have for enrollment.

As part of the Snoqualmie’s efforts at federal recognition, the tribe itself,
through a general vote, chose to set a one-eighth blood quantum standard for membership. The federal government typically recognizes one-quarter as the base standard for tribal affiliation, but tribes generally are allowed to set their own standards for membership.

The issue becomes a problem, however, for tribes, such as the Snoqualmie, which have traditionally looked outside their tribe or clan for marriage partners.

In those cases, each successive generation of births is destined to have a lower blood quantum, to the point where eventually no tribal member will meet even a minimal standard.

It’s a troubling point that even tribal leaders acknowledge.

Tribal Administrator Matt Mattson said the Snoqualmie have used a 1912 survey conducted by Charles Roblin as the base determinant for membership.

“All Indians listed on that roll, for BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency which oversees all Native American tribal issues) were considered full Snoqualmie blood,” Mattson said in response to a recent e-mail question.

Since that time, however, tribal blood quantum levels have diluted, Mattson acknowledged, to the point where no member can claim to be full-blood Snoqualmie.

“Many do have reduced blood quantum,” Mattson said of the tribe’s current level of between 650 and 700 members.

Mattson said the whole concept of blood quantum is difficult to understand, and even more difficult to administer.

For Native Americans, the blood quantum issue is a standard fact of life;
entitlement to virtually any federal program includes a requirement to possess a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood – commonly referred to as a CDIB or “blood card.”

While the Snoqualmie are far from the only tribe grappling with blood quantum issues, it has become, according to members such as Lubenau, a tool for eliminating members who for generations have been the mainstay of the tribe, particularly during the lean decades when the Snoqualmie lacked federal recognition.

In short, there are many Snoqualmie who can claim large percentages of Indian blood – for generations tribal sought spouses from neighboring tribes, and there are enrolled Snoqualmie living as far away as California and Alaska – but the tribe does not recognize the amount of non-Snoqualmie blood that may be coursing through a member’s veins.

The child of a one-quarter Snoqualmie mother and a Lakota Sioux father, for example, is considered to be a one-eighth Snoqualmie – and one-eighth Lakota for that tribe’s purposes.

That child, according to Mattson, would be eligible for full Snoqualmie tribal membership.

That child’s offspring, however, unless he or she was to marry a one-quarter or higher Snoqualmie tribal member – a marriage that is traditionally forbidden – would not be eligible for automatic membership.

“The tribe does take care of minor children until they turn 18,” Mattson said of such cases, “and allows them access to health and social benefits.”

Upon reaching majority, however, it would be up to the tribe to “adopt” the
member with less than one-eighth blood quantum, which could leave that individual with fewer rights, such as voting, than a fully entitled member.

For members such as Lubenau, who possesses a family tree delineated on a paper scroll that would stretch across a third of a football field painstakingly documenting countless generations of direct Snoqualmie lineage, any question of Snoqualmie blood is an insult.

While Lubenau was banished from the Snoqualmie for her political activities, her blood quantum level was also questioned – a tactic that cast not only Lubenau’s tribal status into doubt, but also that of her children, grandchildren and future generations.

“I’ve always been a Snoqualmie,” Lubenau said, but she and others have never been allowed to argue their case before her peers because the Snoqualmie lack a tribal court.

The Snoqualmie constitution calls for the establishment of such a court, which would be the proper venue to hear such questions that the ousted members have been forced to turn outside for relief.

Lubenau has repeatedly stated that prior to banishment, the tribal council she belonged to tried to create such a court, but all efforts were continually
deferred, or outright denied, by tribal administrators, such as Mattson, who is an attorney.

“We were stonewalled all the way,” Lubenau said of efforts to establish the
court. “The non-tribal staff includes a lot of attorneys and it just wasn’t to
their benefit. Without a court, they can basically do whatever they want.”

So now the future of Lubenau, the generations to follow her and the other
Snoqualmie Nine, are in the hands of the federal court.

“What do I want?” Lubenau asked. “I want my membership back. I want my heritage back. But what I really want is this judge to say (the tribe) cannot treat its citizens this way. I want him to say this is a travesty. It’s despicable. That’s what I want.”

Lubenau said she would also ask that some sort of appellate court system be in place to address such issues nationwide; the sheer number of similar ousters in casino-operating tribes bears witness to the need.

“I want a federal policy that says no one single administration can ban members and their heritage,” she said. “It’s like losing your U.S. citizenship. If there’s a single banishment anywhere in the U.S., it should be reviewed somewhere.”