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March 30, 2020

5/3/2017 8:41:00 AM
County seeks clarification on tribal jurisdiction claims
Sandy Stokes

An attorney with the Skagit County Prosecutor’s Office sent a letter to an attorney for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community seeking clarification on jurisdiction the tribe claims in proposed changes to its tribal constitution.
An amendment to the Swinomish constitution states that the tribe will have jurisdiction “over all persons, subjects, property and activities occurring within … the Tribe’s usual and accustomed fishing grounds and stations and all open and unclaimed lands…”
In other words, not just on the Swinomish Reservation and, most worrisome to local elected officials, an area that could encompass most of Skagit County.
Records obtained by the county indicate that the tribal members are scheduled to vote on their constitution May 23. The main thrust of what the tribe is calling the “Stand up for Sovereignty” initiative is to remove the requirement for oversight by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in the tribe’s day to day operations – it’s a move the BIA has encouraged to promote independence in tribal governments.
Earlier drafts of the proposed Swinomish constitution changes caused an uproar over the tribe’s position that March’s Point – thousands of acres of land in private ownership – was originally included in its reservation.
The federal government has insisted the tribe leave out of its governing documents any claim to March’s Point, which includes two refineries, two car dealerships, numerous businesses, private homes and a strip of Anacortes City.
But there is another worrisome issue from the county’s perspective. In a strongly worded nine-page letter sent last week to Swinomish Tribal Attorney Stephen LeCuyer, county Senior Civil Attorney Will Honea lays out the county’s concern over the tribe’s jurisdiction claim.
“Does this involve a demand for land use jurisdiction, criminal jurisdiction, general jurisdiction, regulatory jurisdiction or another kind of jurisdiction?” Honea asked.
In the letter, the county stated it has engaged a large Wisconsin law firm that has been successful in helping governments that represent taxpayers fend off actions by tribal governments. If Swinomish “persists with its claims for off-reservation jurisdiction, Skagit County will be pursuing all available opportunities to oppose it,” Honea’s letter stated.
The letter also notes that claiming jurisdiction over the county’s 116,000 citizens could essentially have the federal government sanction minority rule over a majority population by the Swinomish, which Honea claims had a population of 540 people in the 2010 census. That means four tenths of one percent of the county’s population could have say over everyone else, including the three other tribes in the county.
His letter also referenced a quote attributed to Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby in a story published in September by Outside magazine.
The quote appears in the magazine’s story “What’s Happening in Standing Rock” about the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. It is in a paragraph that states tribes are using “attorneys, money, land and political clout” to “outlast” European settlers. Cladoosby was quoted saying: “I call us the weebee people … We be here when they came, we be here when they gone.”
In response to a request from this newspaper for Swinomish comment on the letter, Tribal Attorney LeCuyer wrote the following:
“The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is careful to examine all issues in a methodical and thoughtful manner, and to consult as appropriate on a government-to-government basis.   This process takes time.
“Indeed, we are always working hard to protect our environment and to continue to be respectful of our community. As you know, Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby’s great-great-grandfather, Kel-Kahl-Tsoot, was one of the 82 Coast Salish leaders who signed the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855. Those signers also reserved land for their peoples, as well as secured permanent fishing, hunting, and gathering rights at off-reservation locations.
“Our long-standing history demonstrates that we are committed to finding successful solutions for all issues, such as moving forward with an opioid treatment facility to help people and families in our community who are working to overcome substance use disorder, leading the effort to address the oral health crisis in Indian County by initiating a program to train and employ dental health therapists, helping to fund college scholarships for high school graduates, and providing an economic boost to the community as one of the leading employers in Skagit County.”
Honea’s letter stated that conversations he’s had with Swinomish representatives over the years indicates they want the Skagit ecosystem to be returned to “pre-European colonization conditions” at the expense of agriculture. 
He takes issue with the notion the region was a utopia for tribes in centuries past, noting “Haida and Tlingat slaving raids and internecine warfare” historically contributed to less than idyllic conditions. He also notes that the tribe’s present economy is based on “gambling, alcohol and fuel sales, as well as federal payments” and is “less resilient that the existing local agricultural economy.”
He suggested that the tribe work cooperatively with other people in the state and county to achieve its environmental goals. “Why not reach for something positive?” the letter asked. “Is this about political control and retribution for the past, or a rational effort to face the future?”
The letter ends in a request for a written explanation of what Swinomish wants to accomplish and what plans it has in asserting “off-reservation jurisdiction at the expense of our community’s democratically-elected governments.”

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