Judge overturns Tribe banishment

A U.S. District Court judge has overturned the Snoqualmie Tribe’s April 2008 banishment of nine members, in a decision made Thursday, April 30 in Seattle.

Judge James Robart ruled that the tribe failed to follow due process when it ousted the group in an April 27, 2008, general membership meeting.

Robart took issue with the exclusion of the nine banished members from the meeting, held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Issaquah. The nine were never told that they would have a chance to speak to the membership, and left after waiting outside the building for several hours, before the tribal council invited them inside.

The Tribe’s official statement, made last April, said the banished group didn’t have the necessary amount of Native American lineage to be members. The banished group included council members ousted following tribal elections in 2007, who claimed they were the rightful council. The sitting council accused the group of being a shadow government.

The nine banished members filed a petition to overturn the decision last May. A trial was held in Seattle last February.

Robart stated that the group will remain socially banished for 90 days after the decision, allowing the tribe time to decide whether to re-do the full banishment process. Banishment requires a vote of the tribe’s membership.

Robart considered the matter under the Indian Civil Rights Act.

Snoqualmie Tribe Administrator Matt Mattson said Monday that the tribe is evaluating its next steps, as well as the broader implications of the ruling on tribal sovreignty.

“We’re not going to make a decision quickly,” Mattson said. “At the end of the day, the tribe will decide who its members are.

“The petitioners, as they seek reinstatement to the tribe, or reconsideration of the banishment, will ultimately have to face the members of the tribal community. That has not changed as a result of this order.”

Social banishment is a sort of probationary banishment, a kind of limbo in tribal status, according to Mattson. Social banishment can vary from person to person, and is an ancient practice of the tribe.

Full banishment strips someone of their rights and privileges as a tribal member, said Rob Roy Smith, attorney for the petitioners.

“It’s akin to a death sentence,” he said.

Smith said his clients remain socially banned from entering tribal property and taking part in tribal events.

“There’s still a long road ahead,” he said. “The big victory here is that the permanent banishment was overturned.” His clients now have the ability to obtain important services. Smith said they were highly concerned about access to tribal health care.

“Right now, all my clients want is to have their lives back,” he said. “My hope is that the tribe will do the right thing and let the social banishment expire in 90 days without taking any other action.”

The tribe has the right to start this process over again, he said. If that happens, “my clients believe that if they are provided the opportunity to speak, once their story is heard, this would not happen again.”

Carolyn Lubenau, one of the nine ousted members, said her group is ready to put the shadow council debate behind them.

“I don’t hold any revenge in my heart,” said Lubenau. “We don’t want to harm anything. We want our rights.”

“I won’t be happy until I can vote in a real election as a citizen of my tribe,” she added.

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