Colville tribal members seek recall of leaders; settlement at issue
Displeased with how a $193 million federal settlement will be spent, some members of the Colville tribes are now seeking a recall of their leaders — Michael Finley, tribal chairman, and Brian Nissan, a councilman who also negotiated the settlement
The Wenatchee World
NESPELEM, Okanogan County — Displeased with how a $193 million federal settlement will be spent, some members of the Colville tribes are now seeking a recall of their leaders who negotiated it.
Joanne Sanchez — a tribal member who gathered 2,092 signatures to distribute more of the funds to members — is circulating petitions to recall Michael Finley, the Colville tribal chairman, and Brian Nissan, a councilman who also negotiated the settlement.
Finley, who was re-elected to a new two-year term on the council in June, could not be reached recently.
The petition claims Finley and Nissan failed to look out for the best interest of tribes by negotiating a settlement that would be taxed if distributed to members. The funds are part of a $1 billion settlement with 41 American Indian tribes over mismanagement of rangeland, timberland and other tribal trust lands by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Colville tribes announced they would distribute 20 percent of the settlement to members and that the remaining 80 percent would go toward restoring tribal forests, rangelands and natural resources.
Sanchez said Finley and other council members have avoided meetings and declined to move forward her petition to get half of the funds distributed directly to members.
But, she said, the petition signers finally saw some action last week, when six members of a tribal council committee voted to recommend bringing the issue to a vote of the tribal members. She said she expects the issue to be taken up by the full 14-member Colville Business Council on Thursday.
Sanchez said she thinks the tribal government will mismanage the settlement funds, and said the recession has left many tribal members in dire need of money.
A June 6 news release from the tribe said the settlement with the federal government put more than $38 million of the funds into a special trust account, and funds distributed from it would not be taxable. Any distribution of the remaining funds would be subject to income taxes, or would count as income in determining eligibility for assistance programs including Social Security, Medicaid, HUD housing, Veterans Affairs or federal aid for college students, the news release said.
Sanchez and others dispute that. They say members of other tribes where 100 percent of settlement funds were distributed directly to members are not being taxed.
A Department of Justice spokesman referred the tax question to the Internal Revenue Service, where IRS spokesman Richard Panick declined to comment, saying specific facts of the Colville settlement could not be considered in a public forum.