Judge rules for banished tribe members
May 7, 2009
A federal-court judge ruled on April 30 that the Snoqualmie Tribe violated the right to due process of nine tribe members that it banished last year.
“I’m very grateful for Judge Robart. He handled the issue very well for both Indian sovereignty and for individual Native American civil rights,” said Carolyn Lubenau, who was a tribal council vice chairwoman, before her banishment.
Judge James L. Robart set aside the banishment of the nine tribe members, and placed a 90-day limit on the tribe members’ social banishment. The social banishment prevents them from visiting tribal lands or other tribal members.
During the suit, the tribe argued that it had the sole authority to determine membership and punish tribe members, because of the tribe’s sovereignty. The banished tribe members argued that they did not receive adequate notice of the banishment proceedings, nor did they have an opportunity to defend themselves from the banishment.
The judge ruled that the banished members did not receive adequate notice and a chance to defend their rights.
In lawsuits like the Snoqualmie banishment case, federal courts walk a fine line between protecting the rights afforded to all Americans — such as the right to due process — and interfering with a tribe’s interest in sovereignty and internal control over tribal government.
“I think they both can exist peacefully,” Lubeanu said.
Snoqualmie Tribal Administrator Matt Matson noted that the ruling did create broad implications on tribal sovereignty. He wrote in an e-mail to the SnoValley Star that the tribe was considering its options and would not rush to decide what it would do next.
At the end of the 90-day period, the tribe could seek to have the nine members banished again.
“If they still feel that it’s something they should do, then they should have valid charges before they pursue something,” Lubenau said.
According to court documents, Lubenau and several of the other tribe members were banished for “crimes amounting to treason.” Lubenau and former tribal council chairman Bill T. Sweet were accused of operating a shadow tribal government.
Lubenau and others, who were not only banished but were disenrolled from tribal membership, cannot seek to be reinstated as tribal members until the 90-day social banishment period is over. The tribe removed them from its membership rolls because they allegedly did not meet the tribe’s standard of 1/8 blood relationship for membership.
For Lubenau, the experience has opened her eyes to the problem of tribal banishment, which she says has happened to people like her at other tribes across the country.
“Banishment is a horrible, evil punishment,” Lubenau said.
Even though the dispute with her own tribe is probably not over, Lubenau would like to help other Native Americans who have been banished by their tribes. The process for contesting a tribe’s banishment action is expensive, and she thinks that many have suffered their banishments in silence because they could not afford to fight back.
“After the ruling, I guess you could say we are not home yet. We are on second base, and we won’t be done until every Native American is assured of their civil rights,” Lubenau said.
Reach reporter Michael Bayless Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 392-6434, ext. 248.