Even Tribal Government Isn’t Without Reproach For Long

Snoqualmie Tribe votes to throw out Tribal Council, hold elections

June 22, 2011

By Dan Catchpole

The Snoqualmie Tribe’s division deepened June 18 when a group of members voted to throw out the current Tribal Council and hold new elections.

The move is the latest in an ongoing dispute. But formal opposition to the current government has been growing, and opponents are digging in for a protracted fight to wrest control of the tribe from what they say is an illegitimate government.

Tribal Council members and the tribal administration contend that the opposition is acting illegally and consists of members who have been disenrolled, or kicked out.

But the outcome will have big repercussions. Both sides are fighting for their heritage, and control of millions of dollars in Snoqualmie Casino revenue and federal money.

For the Snoqualmies who gathered at the Great Longhouse in Monroe on June 18, there was no doubt that they crossed the Rubicon when they voted unanimously for a resolution recalling the current Tribal Council and to hold new elections. An election committee headed by Chief Jerry Enick will organize the elections July 16.

“Once you do this, you’re going into the lion’s den. You have to go and look these people in the eye, and you have to stand firm,” said Leon Enick, the chief’s son. “There’s no turning back after this.”

As the tribe’s head chief, Jerry Enick had called the June 18 meeting after the Tribal Council postponed the Snoqualmies’ annual general membership meeting in May when new elections are typically held.

The council postponed the elections earlier that month saying that the tribe’s membership must be vetted by an outside party, a Seattle-based genealogist. However, opponents of the council say that the audit is politically motivated and that the 2004 member rolls are legitimate.

Arguments over who is and who is not a Snoqualmie stalled a general membership meeting called by council members in January in an effort to strip the 77-year-old Enick of his title.

After Enick challenged the postponed election, the Tribal Council passed a resolution warning the hereditary chief that he is acting inappropriately and could face punishment, Councilman Ray Mullen said.

The council will not recognize the June 18 meeting.

“It was an unsanctioned meeting. Period. The council has control in setting meetings,” Mullen said.

For the time being, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has declined to get involved in the current dispute. But it has stepped in during episodes in the past two years.

If no general meeting is called for several months, the situation would become a concern, Stan Speak, the Pacific Northwest regional director of the bureau, said before the June 18 meeting.

Enick said he expects the push to unseat Mullen and the rest of the council to be difficult.

“They’re fighters,” he said.

Enick should know. In 2008, he sided with several of the current council members in an effort to overthrow a disputed 2007 election that led to a federal civil rights case that overturned the banishment of nine members.

The nine formerly banished members were on hand at the June 18 meeting.

“We’ve been banished, disenrolled and blacklisted from everything, and we’re still fighting,” said Marilee Mai, one of the nine formerly banished members.

The past is the past, she said.

The long-running feud has been painful for some of the tribe’s elders.

“It’s heart-sickening for me to watch the tribe fuss and argue,” tribal elder Barbara Beauchamp said.

At age 83, Beauchamp lived through the tribe’s decadeslong fight to regain federal recognition.

Like members on both sides of the dispute, she said she hopes the tribe can be reunited one day.

“I know it will with God’s help,” she said.

Mullen said he prays daily that the tribe members will be able to get along again.

In the meantime, the fight for control of the tribal government continues, but opponents say they finally feel like they are getting somewhere.

“We’ve been dragging at the bottom for so long, but now we can see that there is a bright light up there,” Enick said. “We can’t quit. What’s in it if we quit?”