District council members say they’ll vote against new code

INCHELIUM - In the monthly Inchelium District Meeting, tonight, Colville tribal members from the district reacted strongly against a proposed new Colville Tribal Code chapter related to eminent domain.

The discussion came as a fifth item on an update related to proposed changes to the Colville Tribal Code that are currently out for public comment. 

ORA’s Anna Vargas, code change administrator, noted under current federal law eminent domain, which is the right of a government to expropriate private property for public use with payment of compensation, already exists within the reservation boundaries, but the change would provide the tribes’ own law and process.

“This is exercising our sovereignty, having our own code,” said Vargas. “The difference is with federal regulations, you have to go to federal court. With our proposed new chapter with eminent domain, you would have to go to tribal court.”

Still, the district reacted strongly against the suggestion.

“It still gives the tribe the right to take your property if they deem it necessary for public use,” said tribal member Jon Simpson. “That’s basically what they did to the North Half with us, and now we’re trying to do this to our own people?”

“Bottom line, we are taking on a white man’s law,” said former CBC member Larry Allen, who spoke for nearly 15 minutes. “That’s how we lost our whole territory. Imminent domain. That’s what this is … You look through this thing, it’s really not protecting tribal members’ rights. I understand the sovereignty of our tribe, but how in the heck does me owning land affect the sovereignty of tribe? … I couldn’t see doing this to a tribal member, whether I liked them or not.”

Allen expressed the code change “should have went out for referendum vote.”

Colville Tribal Natural Resource Division director Cody Desautel stated the original intent of the new chapter concerned utilities, but he too expressed he felt the new chapter was too broad.

“I think when ORA drafted the code they tried to do something encompassing, similar to what is in the code of federal regulations…, so what is in the final code is something much more expanded than what the original intent was,” said Desautel. “The comments we heard were very negative, so I’m sure these council will take the same consideration that the other council did from the other districts and the comments they heard. Again, the intent was not develop a code to take people’s lands for anything they deemed necessary.”

ORA attorney Marty Rapp stated the law was based in part on similar current laws on the Yakama Reservation and other reservations.

“The law has to be drafted very broadly,” said Rapp. “It’s unconstitutional to target a law directly at one person … that’s why it was drafted the way it was. If you drafted it to say, ‘We want to do this one thing and then quit,’ that wouldn’t be valid. The counter argument of that though is that your worried you could be used for other purposes in the future.” 

“There could be language added in to say the tribal government would not do anything to harm our tribal membership,” said Jennifer Phillips. “I didn’t work my whole life to have you come take it, not my own tribe. That wasn’t my American dream growing up, certainly not my Native American dream growing up… Our recourse is to go to a tribal court system that is broken. We would never get any type of fairness out of it.”

The comment period closes April 23. It was approved for a 90-day comment period, Jan. 23. In that time, Vargas had visited each of the districts during monthly district meetings.

The proposed chapter will go to the CBC Law and Justice Committee, May 7, and CBC member Susie Allen encouraged tribal members to attend the meeting.

Other current code changes out for public comment include:

  • Chapter 4-1, related to updating definitions of immediate family as pertaining to tribal member-only campgrounds on the reservation. The comment period closes May 3 and the second committee meeting will be held, May 21.
  • Chapter 4-15, updating the shoreline management code, which was originally adopted in 1998. The comment period closes May 3 and the second committee meeting will be held, May 21.
  • Chapter 10-2, related to employee records confidentiality. The comment period closes May 7.
  • PROPOSED NEW CHAPTER 1-9 Rules of new evidence. Rapp reported that the tribal court of appeals had ruled that the tribes were out of compliance with the Tribal Law and Order Act and the new chapter, addressing evidence in tribal court and other legal processes pertaining to tribal court hearings, would bring the tribe into compliance. The new chapter was opened for a 60 day comment period today. That comment period closes June 17. 

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