Banished Snoqualmie tribal members await ruling
A federal judge will rule whether he will hear the case of banished members of the Snoqualmie Tribe who claim they were wrongly kicked out of the tribe.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A federal judge might be the last hope for banished members of the Snoqualmie Tribe who appeared in court Tuesday in their effort to regain tribal membership.
U.S. District Court Judge James L. Robart said he would issue a written ruling later as to whether the case is even properly before him or should be dismissed.
Only then — if he rules in favor of the banished members — would he get to the merits of the case.
Nine former tribal members, including five former tribal-council members filed the lawsuit in May, arguing their civil rights were violated when they were banished by the tribe, which accused them of running an illegal shadow government, treason and other crimes.
The banishment came on the heels of months of internal dispute in which dueling tribal-council leaders accused each other of running an illegal government that seized power on the strength of illegal elections.
The feud boiled over last spring when the eventually ousted council members went public, declaring the Snoqualmie tribal government in crisis. The tribe held elections in June to replace the ousted members and choose new officers.
The dispute has roiled the tribe as it prepares to open in November what could become the most profitable tribal casino in Washington state, in part because of its prime location, only 26 miles from downtown Seattle, just off Interstate 90.
The tribe earlier this month shouldered an additional $45 million in debt to buy electronic slot machines and other furnishings for the casino. The tribe issued $330 million in debt in January 2007 to launch the project: a 170,000-square-foot gambling casino with 1,700 slots, a 1,000-seat event center, 52 Las Vegas-style table games, as well as several restaurants and bars.
It's not the first time the tribe has been torn apart by banishment.
A similar fight erupted in the mid-1990s. Then, as now, dueling council leaders claimed legitimacy, and each side accused the other of hijacking the government with a flawed election. The losers were banished by the winners — ultimately determined in King County Superior Court.
And a fight for eventual control of a tribal casino — hoped for even then, when the tribe was still fighting for federal recognition — was alleged to be at the bottom of the battle.
"It's sad," said Pete Connick, attorney for the tribal council in that dispute as well as this one.
"It's the same thing all over again," he said after Tuesday's hearing. "What they want is to govern," he said of the ousted council members, "and they are not going to."
Connick argued before the judge that the case should be dismissed because it doesn't belong in federal court. But Rob Roy Smith, attorney for the banished members, argued they are entitled under the Indian Civil Rights Act to due process like anyone else.
He said the tribal council banished them without exexplanation or giving the accused an opportunity to defend themselves.
The Snoqualmies have no tribal court, so federal court is the only place they can turn for help, Smith argued. Former chairman Bill Sweet agreed, saying after the hearing, "I don't think in any society they ought to be able to just throw people out."
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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