The United States Constitution secures to the American people certain inalienable rights:
- The Right to Bear Arms (2nd Amendment)
- The Right to be Free from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures (4th Amendment)
- The Right to not be Deprived of Life, Liberty and Property without Due Process of Law (5th Amendment)
- The Right to a Speedy and Public Trial (6th Amendment)
These privileges contained in the Bill of Rights were intended to protect the American people from the misconstruction and abuse of power of the governing body and ensure confidence in the Government. In Indian Country the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights do not apply to Tribal Governments. Any rights reserved to the tribal people must be contained within the laws adopted by the Tribal Governing body itself, and for the Tribal people within the Colville Reservation there are no Bill of Rights contained within the Colville Tribal Constitution. Instead the Colville Business Council in 1988 adopted the Colville Tribal Civil Rights Code, Colville Tribal Code Chapter 1-5 which mirror some of the Bill of Rights.
I believe in these rights. They are a large part of the reason I became an attorney. It was something I believed that every person had a right to and that I fought to ensure they were granted. However, as a Colville Tribal member I now see that our governing body does not hold these same rights as sacred to our people. I have seen with my own eyes this truth. Last week, I represented Councilwoman George in her Ethics Hearing. I agreed to take the case because I could see that the Colville Business Council was violating the laws of the Colville Tribe. The proceedings were flawed from the start and I will outline a few:
- The original complaint was made in September 2018. This complaint was not in writing and it was not notarized as required by the code. There have been numerous complaints made against other council people that have been dismissed because they were not in writing and were not notarized.
- The Rules Committee tried to bootstrap the above complaint by having Councilman Kheel file the same complaint but without any facts just citations to the code. This is problematic on two fronts – 1) he is not the injured party and thus has no standing, and 2) since the complaint did not allege any facts it must be dismissed under 1-8-30(c). Still they proceeded.
- The Rules Committee failed to give proper notice of the proceedings (code requires at least 10-days advance notice of the hearing so a person has time to prepare a defense,) Councilwomen George was given less than a week notice. Still they proceeded.
- Failed to follow the code by having the hearing after the 60-day time limit outlined in the code which they tried to get around by again bootstrapping the original complaint by having Councilman Kheel file the same complaint even though he was not the alleged injured party. The 60-day requirement is a jurisdictional issue which means the Committee cannot proceed if they do not act timely. There have been numerous complaints that have been dismissed because the hearing was not held within the 60-day timeline. Still they proceeded.
- Denying Councilwoman George the right to be represented by Counsel during the proceedings by kicking me out 20 minutes into the hearing because they didn’t like my line of questioning. When I tried to object and explain that my line of questioning was part of my defense they told me no, when I continued to object they still wouldn’t listen and then they kicked me out. Still they proceeded.
- Generally in these proceedings, the person that files the complaint has the burden to prove their allegations. They are the ones to call in the witnesses, ask questions and present their evidence. The Rules Committee is just supposed impartially hear the evidence and make a ruling much like a judge. When I pointed this out before I was asked to leave the person that chaired the “hearing” responded that this wasn’t tribal court and he could make this ruling as he saw fit. I heard this repeatedly. No one had the burden of proof, Marvin Kheel did not present his evidence, he sat on the Committee as a member of the Committee. Still they proceeded.
- Under 1-8-30(g) any person that cannot be impartial must be disqualified. The above violations and the conduct of some members of CBC since Councilwoman George was sworn-in show such clear bias that most of the Rules Committee should have recused themselves, no one did.
Some members of the Rules Committee raised the above issues. However, their voices were not heard either and the violations though numerous was never put to a vote. This was not a Rules Committee acting within its lawful authority. The Colville Civil Rights Act allows for a right of action in Colville Tribal Court under 1-5-3 and 1-5-8, but ORA continues to seek legal barriers to this explicit remedy under tribal law. So if the Court agrees with ORA, what can be done. You cannot have a Right without a Remedy so what should we do? We must ask ourselves, whether we believe in the rights stated above and in addition, we must demand that those we elect to leadership positions believe and uphold these very same truths. Otherwise we invite corruption and tyranny into our government. Isn’t it time for this to end.
Theresa Thin Elk
The Tribal Tribune allows letters to the editor under guidelines. The opinions expressed in letters to our readership should not be interpreted as the view of Tribal Tribune, our staff or the Colville Tribes