Ousted Snoqualmie tribe members get to present case
Nine ousted Snoqualmie Indians, who claim they were illegally banished by their own tribe in a bitter power struggle, will be allowed to present their case in federal court in Seattle that they were denied due process.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Nine ousted Snoqualmie Indians, who claim they were illegally banished by their own tribe in a bitter power struggle, will be allowed to present their case in federal court that they were denied due process.
U.S. District Court Judge James Robart ruled Sept. 5 that he has jurisdiction to hear the matter brought by the banished tribal members against the sitting tribal council. He denied a procedural motion by the tribe's leadership to dismiss the case.
Some of the banished tribal members say they were thrilled to have the chance to make their case in court.
"I was hoping this was America," said Bill Sweet, the ousted chairman of the council. "Rights are just that, rights. This isn't a communist country, this is the United States, and everyone has the right to be heard."
Sharon Frelinger, elected to the council in May 2007 only to be banished within a year, said, "I am ecstatic."
"This represents hope for other Native Americans that there might be a place where we can be heard. Even though they are a sovereign nation, you still cannot treat your people without due process."
Following a new tribal election in September 2007, the tribe in April "clarified" the enrollment of more than 40 members, cutting off their right to hold office or vote. The tribe also banished nine members, including several elders and a leader of the Indian Shaker church.
The controversy has embroiled this tribe of about 650 members, which plans to open a $330 million casino in November, just a half-hour drive from downtown Seattle.
The dispute dates back to a council election in May 2007 which some tribal leaders contend had serious irregularities.
In August 2007, they sought to oust members of the council and Sweet and replace them in new elections a month later. However, Sweet and the ousted council members argue that theirs was the legal government.
The nine banished lost not only their tribal membership and privileges such as voting and access to tribal-government benefits, but they were also barred from tribal lands.
The tribal council argued in court documents that those banished had an opportunity to defend themselves during the banishment proceedings that were held in April at the Issaquah Hilton, but instead left.
However, during the tribal meeting, they were barred from entering the hotel and had to wait outside in the parking lot with family and supporters.
By the time tribal members inside the meeting came out to the parking lot to invite the accused to come in and speak, one at a time, they discovered they had already left.
Frelinger maintains that the sitting government is illegal and that she and other tribal members were improperly toppled from office and then banished.
"It was a coup," Frelinger said. "I feel like they are not the legal government, and that is my position."
But Pete Connick, attorney for the sitting council, said Frelinger's contention about the election is outside the scope of the federal lawsuit. "Even if it was true, she doesn't get to litigate that in federal court," Connick said.
"We are not going to get to all that. I suspect they will try to tread into the area of elections and membership, and we will argue about that."
The most ousted members can hope for is a redo of their banishment, Connick said.
"Maybe it wasn't perfect," Connick said. "So what are we going to do, go back and give them more? Do it again? That is the only remedy."
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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