Tribal members deliver petition on settlement split
Tribal members gather under the arbor at the July 4 Grounds to rally for a change on how to split $193 million gained from a lawsuit settlement. — Scott Hunter photos
Tribal members rallied Friday to deliver a petition to the Colville Business Council, asking it to reconsider an earlier decision on how to split a recent court settlement with the federal government.
Meeting at the Fourth of July Grounds arbor at the Colville Indian Agency, a crowd of about 200 heard speeches by those for and against changing the CBC decision to pay out just 20 percent directly to members and invest 80 percent of $193 million gained because of alleged mismanagement of tribal resources by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The agreement with the 9,500-member Colville Tribe is part of a $3.4 billion settlement reached with tribes representing hundreds of thousands of American Indians whose land trust royalties were mismanaged. The agreements are the result of a class-action suit filed in 1996 by Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe who died last October of cancer.
Most Colvilles Friday were sharply critical of the unanimous 80/20 decision and said many other nearby tribes have voted to pay 100 percent of their settlements directly to members.
Joanne Sanchez had collected 1,783 signatures of Colville members on petitions throughout several reservations seeking a 50-percent share for members.
CBC Chairman Michael Finley last week issued a statement explaining the decision was meant to protect members from tax liabilities on the settlement funds.
“We did not intend for the federal government to be allowed to recoup a large portion of the Tribes’ settlement on the back end through taxation of our Tribal members,” Finley stated.
Paying out a large amount to individual members could also affect their eligibility for federally funded, tribally managed programs on which they currently depend, the statement said.
And reducing the number eligible for such programs could also cut the budgets for those programs and tribal jobs.
Joanne Sanchez delivers a petition with more than 1,700 signatures on it.
Many tribal members at the rally weren’t listening to that reasoning. Many said they don’t trust their tribal leaders to do the right thing with the money.
Councilmember Ricky Gabriel, chair of the tribal government committee, said he thinks there’s a question whether the federal government can tax the settlement funds, since they were paid for mismanagement of tribal assets not taxable under the United States Constitution.
Gabriel established a quorum of the committee under the arbor as storm clouds darkened the skies overhead. The committee accepted the petition from Sanchez.
Gabriel said the signatures would be verified before the petition is taken to the full council, half of whose members, including Gabriel, face election this Saturday, June 16.