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Dueling tribal meetings: Sitting council, members' tribunal call for general gatherings
The Snoqualmie Tribe will discuss its blood-quantum audit at a general membership meeting in June, just as a dissident tribunal holds gatherings aimed at electing a new council.
The tribal council called for a general membership meeting on Saturday, June 23. That meeting will discuss the tribe’s recent enrollment audit, the base roll for membership, and the voting list.
Meanwhile, a six-member group calling itself the Emergency Interim Tribal Council has called for a general tribal meeting on June 2, demanding council elections. A council election has not been held since 2010.
Tribal Administrator Matt Mattson, who met with the Record Thursday, said the tribe’s audit of membership and blood quantum is at the heart of the matter.
Over the past year, an outside genealogist looked at the background of the tribe’s 650 members, intending to establish exactly who meets the necessary one-eighth Snoqualmie ancestry.
“It is taking a long time to go through that process,” Mattson said. “The council is being very deliberate.”
With the audit wrapping up, the June 23 meeting will allow the membership to discuss how to proceed with the issue of blood and membership.
Some members have challenged the tribe’s enrollment department’s authority. “If you have no buy-in from the whole community about who determines membership, it goes to the core of the governmental structure,” Mattson said.
In the audit, two prior genealogists stepped down or were dismissed, before the third, affiliated with the University of Washington, took on the task of sorting tribal membership, according to Mattson. Gathering information from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Acknowledgements and Research, tribal records and tribe members, she gave families the chance to provide supplemental information or contest her findings. Mattson believes most members have received a letter with their results.
“These decisions have historical implications, in terms of how the tribe got here and who is and who isn’t Snoqualmie,” he said. “There are also generational implications going forward.”
That’s why the council is taking its time, he says.
“We’re trying to be as inclusive as possible,” Mattson said.
“Tribes fought so long for sovereignity,” Mattson added. A core element of that is determining your own members.” Now, membership has become so controversial that “the membership has gotten to the point where they’re not willing to submit to the authority of their own enrollment department…. Families are saying, ‘We’re Snoqualmie, they’re not.’”
He acknowledged that the constitution calls for an annual meeting, but counters with a provision that says the tribe must develop election procedures.
The BIA has strongly encouraged the tribe to get to an election, but acknowledges that the issue of who can or cannot vote is a fundamental precursor, Mattson said.
“Rather than rushing to an election, determining these things is definitely the prudent thing to do,” Mattson said.
Meanwhile, forming to challenge the sitting council, members of the Emergency Interim Tribal Council describe themselves as a tribal tribunal, not a parallel or alternate government.
Through e-mails and signs placed at the tribe’s offices, the group called for a membership meeting, 10 a.m. Saturday, June 2, at the Mount Si Senior Center in North Bend, with the aim of holding delayed elections.
Members of the tribunal— chairwoman Carolyn Lubenau and members Kanium Ventura, Milan Gabel, Marilee Mai, Alan Sanders and Richard Zambrano, all selected at a meeting held in May in North Bend—say they have one agenda item: The election of a new council.
Gabel and Mai, who spoke to the Record on Thursday, May 24, claim that according to the tribe’s constitution, the current, official council is defunct. No elections have been held for two years, so multiple seats are expired and there is no quorum, they argue. Their attorneys have appealed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, announcing the members’ intention to reclaim the government.
Both Gabel and Mai say their case goes beyond the enrollment study or any single issue.
“The membership is really tired of being excluded,” said Mai.
Gabel and Mai said the blood quantum issue must be settled by the membership.
“Only the members can determine who a member is,” Mai said. “Nobody can determine what can be done until the members have their say.”