Tribal suit over millions dismissed
Group will consider “going federal”
A lawsuit filed against members of the Colville Business Council by Colville Tribal member Yvonne L. Swan and the “Colville Members for Justice” was dismissed by the Colville Tribal Court Oct 8.
Citing tribal law, the tribes’ sovereign immunity and tribal constitutional provisions requiring a separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislative branch, Chief Judge Cynthia Jordan ruled that the Colville Tribal Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case and ordered the case dismissed.
The suit, Yvonne L. Swan and Colville Members for Justice v. Colville Business Council, Et Al., filed in May of this year, was an effort to compel the Colville Business Council to distribute $96.5 million, the remaining half of the tribes’ historic $193 million settlement with the U.S. in a suit filed over governmental trust mismanagement.
Half of that settlement has already been distributed through per capita payments to the tribal membership.
The Colville Business Council received petitions to ask the membership whether to pay out the rest, but ultimately decided against putting the issue out for vote.
Instead, the remaining $96.5 million was allocated by tribal resolution to long-term cultural and economic goals through the tribes’ “Qwam Qwmpt’” plan for a language endowment, land purchase, a Forest Restoration Plan, community development funds, and more.
Swan said Tuesday the group will meet early next month to consider their options.
“We haven’t given up by a long shot,” she said. “Everybody wants to go federal.”
Colville Tribal Chairman Michael O. Finley said the council understands the financial difficulties many tribal members face.
“The Colville Business Council understands and appreciates the feelings and desires of the plaintiffs in this case,” he said in a press release. “We live in the same economically depressed communities as the Plaintiffs. We know how things are. Our oath and duty requires us to work towards solutions for these problems.
“This money has presented our Tribe with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop cures rather than apply bandages as we have, out of necessity, become accustomed to,” he said.
But Swan said many in her group, which includes many elders, still don’t know about the tribal court’s decision. She said now that the tribal court has ruled, it opens up an option to pursue an injunction in federal court.
Of 70 settlements reached between tribes and the federal government over trust asset mismanagement in recent years, the Colville Tribes’ was the second largest, Finley said.