The Snoqualmie Tribe took action to banish nine tribal members in an apparent schism between current and ousted members of the tribe’s elected council.
Council member and chief Nathan Barker confirmed that the members had been officially banished at a discipline meeting held Sunday, April 27, at the Issaquah Hilton Garden Inn.
Sitting tribal members said that those considered for banishment are members of a rival, “illegal shadow government,” according to a statement signed by Barker, head chief Jerry Enick and 10 other council members.
The sitting council also stated that most people considered for removal from the tribe don’t have the necessary amount of Native American lineage to be members.
Maple Valley resident Carolyn Lubenau, who considers herself to be the Tribe’s rightful vice chairwoman, told the Valley Record that she was among the banished members. Lubenau said she wasn’t allowed to speak inside at Sunday’s meeting. According to a tribal statement, the banished members were told they would be allowed to speak, but left the premises.
Lubenau said she was among several council members, including chairman Bill T. Sweet, who were forced from office last August by Chief Enick (Enick declined to comment for the Record). However, the current tribal council members state that Sweet was among members removed by constitutionally valid actions last fall. Both sides claim the other side is a “shadow government.”
Sweet’s attorney, Rob Roy Smith of Seattle, said that at present, the Tribe has two governments. He describes one as the rightful, constitutional government elected in May of 2007. The other, he claims, was created by a chief who does not have constitutional authority to create it.
According to Smith, the schism began last August, when Enick informed the council that he was suspending the chairman and several members until elections could be held. Those ousted, according to Smith and Lubenau, included members who had only sat on the council for three months and were interested in change.
“The people wanted change,” Lubenau said. “We won an election over members who felt they had a lifetime membership to the council.”
A general membership meeting called last September was boycotted by many tribal members, Smith claimed. Nevertheless, a quorom of members voted in a new council.
“Bill Sweet was removed as our chairman back in September,” said Snoqualmie council vice chairwoman Mary Anne Hinsman, a council member for 43 years.
“There were democratic elections in September,” said Snoqualmie Tribal Administrator Matt Mattson. “The council has been functioning, the tribe has been providing services. The casino project is on time, on budget.
“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Sweet is electing to take a political grievance to the general public. It really is an internal, tribal issue.
“Everything has been done according to the Tribe’s laws, traditions and customs,” Mattson said. “The overwhelming majority of the tribe, outside a few members of his own family, do not recognize him as chairman.”
“Neither state nor federal courts will hear this type of dispute,” Smith said. Currently, the tribe does not have a court system of its own. The Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has so far not stepped in on behalf of Sweet’s party.
“We just don’t know yet what to expect,” said Stan Speaks, regional director for the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. “The main things is to be sure there’s no question about their tribal government.”
Smith said the schism was kept quiet by all involved for some time. The issue came to a head when the Enick group started issuing disenrollment letters to members. If the letters are valid, it would result in disenrolling about 10 percent of the tribal membership.
Sitting tribal council members justified the disenrollments in their statement, saying that Sweet’s group “declined to act on their opportunities to appeal enrollment decisions… Their response has been to try to harm the tribe… They have tried to shut down our tribal government, shut down health and social programs, fire the entire staff and illegally gain control of the Snoqualmie Tribal bank accounts. All these efforts have failed.”
Sweet and Lubenau contend that they were locked out of tribal affairs. The blood quantum reasoning behind the banishment “is a red herring,” Lubenau said.
“When you got to federal recognition, your lineage, and who you are, is combed through,” she said. “I am still Indian. I have six generations that have been. My grandmother was a lifetime council member.”