July 4, 2012 | LXXII, No. 14

Distraught with leaders, tribal members will meet July 4 to seek answers

Letters to the Editor

As you probably know, some tribes in the Northwest have started receiving their shares of a $1 billion settlement with the U.S. government over mismanagement of their money and trust lands. Some tribes like the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the recipient of the largest settlement at $193 million, are still awaiting payment.

Shortly following the announcement of this award to the Colville Tribes, Council Chairman Mike Finley announced that 20 percent would be dispursed to the membership with the remaining 80 percent going to tribal natural resources and other programs. This caused many questions to arise from the tribal membership, which has an enrollment of close to 9,600. The following questions have been posed to the 14-member Council.

• Why wasn’t the membership informed of a lawsuit that was filed on their behalf as the membership was named as petitioner?

• Why wasn’t the membership consulted prior to the settlement as to whether they approved, and how the money would be used as well as plans for distribution?

• Has the 80 percent earmarked for Natural Resources and other programs already been spent?

• Council Chairman Mike Finley stated in a press release June 6, 2012 that as part of the settlement 20 percent of the award would be non-taxable but if any of the remaining 80 percent were to be paid out to members it would be taxed; how could this be? Does this set precedence with the government in tribal settlements for taxation? Were our sovereign rights and trust breached?

• Council Chairman Mike Finley stated in the same press release that members on Social Security or state welfare programs could be affected as far as their monthly benefits and could be terminated from their respective programs. How could this be?

In response, a petition spearheaded by Joanne Sanchez, Colville tribal member, was initiated, garnering 2,091 signatures — over a third of the eligible voting membership — to allow the membership to vote per referendum on the percentage of distribution of the settlement and use of the remaining monies. This petition was submitted to the Colville Business Council and petition signatures were verified by Tribal Enrollment.

The CBC set a follow-up meeting to address the validity of the petition and possible referendum vote for June 28. All Council were aware of this meeting. On the date of the meeting, 25 members showed up at council and five of the 14 council were in attendance. The chairman was not in attendance and is on unspecified leave until July 29.

Needless to say, many members are angry and distraught with the council. Lines of communication with the majority of council are non-existent right now. Legal action is being pursued against the council by members of the tribe. A General Membership meeting is scheduled for July 4 at Nespelem, at the Fourth of July Pow Wow Grounds at 3 p.m. to discuss the settlement, petition, distribution, and council action, as well as inaction and non-response to the membership.

Petitions are being generated for recall of council that were not voted out in the recent election. Many of the membership are asking media resources to please help them obtain information on the questions that I have previously stated, as well as provide media coverage; what is happening with the Confederated Tribes will surely affect other tribes in this and other settlement processes and procedures. This settlement between the government and 44 tribes across the nation, including six in Washington, (Makah, Spokane, Tulalip, Nooksak, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and Swinomish) is a result of a lawsuit in which the tribes attempted to receive an accounting of the Interior Department’s management of the trust funds and to learn how much had been lost. The award is for money lost in mismanaged accounts and royalties from natural resource development. The Interior Department manages more than 100,000 leases on tribal trust lands and about 2,500 tribal trust accounts for more than 250 federally recognized tribes.

Michelle Covington

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