One group of members accused others of forming a "shadow government," but those punished say the real issue is "casino greed."
Members of the Snoqualmie Tribe banished eight tribal members Sunday, and more than 60 others have received letters informing them they have been disenrolled from the tribe.
A selected group of Snoqualmies designated “preferred voters” by honorary chief Jerry Enick and tribal council members gathered in an all-day, closed-door meeting Sunday at the Issaquah Hilton to consider punishment of the tribal chairman, vice chairman, treasurer and two council members.
They were accused of operating an “illegal, shadow government” after being suspended by Enick last fall, when he asserted control of the tribal government.
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The banished maintain they are the rightful, duly elected leaders of the tribe.
A tribal spiritual leader and a minister of the Indian Shaker church were also banished, along with the chairman’s brother.
Sunday’s events were the latest in a long-running dispute between battling factions in the tribe. At stake are control of the tribal government and what promises to be one of the most lucrative casinos in the state, scheduled to open in November.
Today, two councils claim to be the legitimate leaders of the Snoqualmies — one composed of now-banished members who’ve gathered regularly in a private home and the other that continues to meet in the tribe’s administrative offices.
The accusations against the banished members range from treason to saying a prayer, according to tribal resolutions of discipline issued this month.
Banishment is the most extreme punishment in Indian Country, usually reserved for capital crimes such as murder, or drug dealing. The banished lose all right to be on tribal land, claim tribal benefits or even claim Indian identity.
Meanwhile, some 60 disenrolled Snoqualmies have been informed they don’t have the required one-eighth tribal blood to be members. They are being purged from the tribe’s membership rolls, and are barred from voting and holding office, but are still allowed to collect tribal benefits.
Most of the disenrolled are relatives of the tribal members targeted for banishment.
The banishment decision was announced Sunday in a one-paragraph written statement issued by Mary Ann Hinzman, a Snoqualmie tribal-council member and elder.
The statement said the general membership of the tribe met to discipline “a handful of its members who seek to take control of the tribe’s government and its affairs.”
The punishment was intended “to preserve the dignity and sovereignty of the tribe. These matters are internal affairs to the tribe and will stay within the tribe,” the statement said.
The statement also said the banished were told that they would have an opportunity to speak on their own behalf.
However, the accused were not allowed inside the meeting, or the hotel lobby. They stood on the sidewalk with family members and supporters, including elders from the Upper Skagit Tribe.
“We weren’t going to stand around out there for four or five hours to wait to be interrogated one at a time by their attorney, and without our attorney; there is absolutely no due process,” said Carolyn Lubenau. She was elected vice chairman of the council last May and banished Sunday.
Bill Sweet, the chairman who also was banished, blamed “casino greed” for the division of the tribe, which has just over 600 members and was recognized by the federal government in 1999. The tribe borrowed $330 million to build its casino just a half-hour from downtown Seattle.
“What kind of garbage is this?” Sweet said. “They aren’t gods, they can’t tell me I am not an Indian, they can’t tell my sister she can’t pray,” he said, referring to Linda Sweet Baxter, a tribal spiritual leader.
Baxter was banished for “inappropriate conduct as a supposed religious leader in admonishing tribal leaders in the name of the great spirit,” according to the resolution of discipline against her.
Lubenau said the ousted chairman and council members will continue to meet. “We have to protect our people more than ever. Who will be next?” she said.
“This should not be allowed in the United States,” she said. “It is like a third-world country. We have reduced the Native American tribes to social clubs where they can just eliminate members at will. If they can’t show they have due process, I don’t think they should be allowed to have these casinos.”
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has so far declined to intervene but has cut off federal funding to the tribe until it settles its affairs.
Sunday’s gathering was painful to the excluded, as fellow tribal members, some wearing shirts declaring themselves “Followers of Chief Enick” on one side and “Yeah that’s right, the REAL Indians” on the other, strode past.
“The real Indians need to come on in,” said tribal member Ray Mullen, gesturing to the “preferred voters” as they arrived. Enick walked brusquely in next, speaking to no one. “No comment,” he said as the glass doors shut behind him.
The dispute divided friends and family members. “I trusted you. You’ve been in my home. My heart is broken,” elder Phyllis Rose said to Joseph Mullen, a former council member, before he headed inside to consider the banishment of Sweet, her nephew.
Rosita Scoones, an Upper Skagit elder who came to support the punished, shook her head in sorrow. “This tribe is being torn apart.”
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org