From Roger Nyhus, Nyhus Communications
Copyright © 2008 Nyhus Comm. LLC
Lawsuit Alleges Gregoire Illegally Gave Another Tribe Authority over Nisqually Tribal Land
OLYMPIA, WA - The Nisqually Indian Tribe today filed a major federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma against Gov. Christine Gregoire for a clear breach of the Nisqually Tribe’s sovereign rights and its existing compact with the State of Washington.
Nisqually Chairman Cynthia Iyall held a news conference today on the steps of the state Capitol to announce the lawsuit, which alleges that Gregoire violated federal and state law as well as the state’s compact with the Nisqually Tribe. Dozens of Nisqually tribal members gathered around Iyall, carrying signs that read “Respect Our Sovereignty” and “Honor Your Word, Governor Gregoire.”
Gregoire signed a compact on Jan. 22 that enables a tribe other than the Nisqually Tribe to sell cigarettes on lands under the Nisqually Tribe’s jurisdiction. The governor’s action violates the Nisqually Tribe’s compact with the state and wrongly interprets well-settled federal law, the Nisqually Tribe’s lawsuit alleges.
“Governor Gregoire’s actions constitute a clear infringement of the Nisqually Tribe’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction throughout the Nisqually River basin,” Iyall said. “Whatever the governor’s motivation, her actions are clearly illegal, and the Nisqually Tribe is determined to vigorously defend our sovereign rights for as long as it takes.”
“In our brief conversation with Governor Gregoire before she made this unfortunate mistake, she tried to characterize this issue as simply about cigarette sales or a disagreement between tribes,” Iyall said. “This is far more fundamental – this is about our sovereignty, pure and simple. This lawsuit is about an illegal infringement on our sacred sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”
The lawsuit seeks immediate injunctive relief. “We respectfully request that the federal courts reject Governor Gregoire’s actions, which infringe upon the Nisqually Tribe’s sovereign authority,” Iyall said.
“Governor Gregoire’s actions are akin to the governor of Oregon imposing Oregon laws in Washington state. Clearly, Governor Gregoire would not support such an unlawful breach of the state’s rights and lands,” Iyall said. “Honor our contract and respect our sovereignty, Governor Gregoire.”
The legal dispute involves the Nisqually Tribe’s sovereign rights to jurisdiction over an area known as Frank’s Landing, which is located in the Nisqually River basin. Frank’s Landing is not a federally recognized Indian tribe, but its residents live on land that qualifies as Indian Country. The lawsuit states that the Nisqually Tribe has clear authority over this land.
The Nisqually Tribe indirectly learned of Gregoire’s secret negotiations with the other tribe only days before she signed the agreement. Iyall and other Nisqually Tribe members urgently requested a meeting with the governor to emphasize the wide-ranging ramifications of her planned action. They met briefly with the governor on Jan. 21 to ask her to reconsider her decision. The governor refused and signed the compact the next day.
“Governor Gregoire’s illegal action has far-reaching implications for all of Indian Country,” Iyall said.
According to the lawsuit, Gregoire signed a Compact Amendment with the Squaxin Island Tribe that allows the smoke shop located at Frank’s Landing to sell cigarettes under the Squaxin Island Compact, which is a clear violation of the Nisqually Tribe’s Cigarette Tax Compact with the state. The Squaxin Island Tribe, a federally recognized Indian tribe, is located more than 25 miles from Frank’s Landing and has no jurisdiction over the Nisqually River basin.
In 2004, Gov. Gary Locke reaffirmed the Nisqually Tribe’s constitutional authority over the Nisqually River basin, including Frank’s Landing. In the compact Locke signed, the state defined the Nisqually Tribe’s authority as covering “all lands within the confines of the Nisqually Reservation” as well as “all lands placed in trust or restricted status for individual Indians or for the Tribe located in the Nisqually River basin…”
The compact concludes, “Additionally, the State and Tribe agree that the authority to enter into cigarette tax compacts is the exclusive domain of federally recognized Indian Tribes and that Tribal members or Tribal entities that do not have the full sovereign status of a Tribe are not so authorized.”
In April 2005, Gregoire signed a state proclamation that “reaffirms the government-to-government relationship between the State and federally recognized Indian Tribes in Washington … and resolves to move forward with the federally recognized Tribes in a positive and constructive relationship that will help us fairly and effectively resolve any differences to achieve our mutual goals.”
Iyall said, “It is unfortunate that Governor Gregoire left us no alternative but to file this lawsuit to stop this illegal action. Up until now, we have had a great working relationship with the state. We hope that the governor will see that she has made a terrible mistake and work quickly to correct it.”
Background on Nisqually Tribe’s Authority over Frank’s Landing
Since 1918 in practice and 1974 in legal standing, the Nisqually Indian Tribe has maintained jurisdiction over the lands comprising Frank’s Landing and other Indian trust allotments granted to tribal members to replace reservation lands that were condemned by Pierce County on behalf of the United States in 1918 to create the Fort Lewis Military Base.
The Nisqually Indian Reservation, located east of Olympia, Wash., in Thurston County, was originally created in 1854 by the Medicine Creek Treaty, in which the Nisqually Indian Tribe agreed to cede, relinquish and convey to the United States a substantial area of land in exchange for the establishment of a reservation, cash payments and the recognition of Nisqually hunting and fishing rights in the ceded area.
From 1857 to 1917, the Nisqually reservation consisted of 4,700 acres on both sides of the Nisqually River. The Pierce County side – about 70 percent of the reservation – was condemned in 1918 to become Fort Lewis. The Nisqually tribal members whose property was taken were offered settlements. One evicted Nisqually tribal member, Willie Frank, used his allotment money to purchase six acres on the west side of the river, outside reservation boundaries. This place has come to be known as Frank’s Landing.
Although it is not within the original borders of the 1854 Nisqually Indian Reservation, Frank’s Landing is considered to be part of the Nisqually Indian Reservation and has long been under the jurisdiction of the Nisqually Tribe. In 1974, the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of Columbia held that Frank’s Landing is part of the Nisqually Indian Reservation and that the Tribe has jurisdiction over the land. In 1987 and 1994, the U.S. Congress upheld that the Nisqually Indian Tribe has jurisdiction over the land at Frank’s Landing and that it is officially part of the Nisqually Indian Reservation.
According to the “Handbook of Federal Indian Law” by Felix Cohen, tribal sovereignty is explained as follows: “As a consequence of the tribe’s relationship with the federal government, tribal powers of self-government are limited by federal statutes, by the terms of treaties with the federal government, and by restraints implicit in the protectorate relationship itself. In all other respects the tribes remain independent and self-governing political communities.”
Implicit in this principle is that only the federal government has the authority to change tribal powers, not the states.
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