TOPPENISH, Wash. — Nearly 30 Yakama tribal members lined Fort Road outside of the Yakama agency Monday morning, waving signs calling for an accounting of tribal spending and the ouster of the 14-member Tribal Council.
Cars honked as they passed the group with signs that read “We Want Answers” and “Impeach Tribal Council.”
Some participating in the rally said they were upset because they had no word about whether they are in line for payments from a roughly $188 million settlement the tribe stands to get from the federal government. In the Salazar settlement, the federal government has agreed to pay 41 tribal governments across the country to settle a series of lawsuits accusing the government of mismanaging tribal resources such as timber, minerals and other assets held in trust.
Protesters said tribal members voted at the tribe’s recent General Council meeting — where all major decisions are made — to have the settlement divided into equal payments to each man, woman and child in the more than 10,000-member tribe.
Louie Chales said his hopes of getting something from the Salazar settlement brought him out to the protest. “I’m hoping for a big check,” he said. “We already voted for it and everything and we still ain’t getting it.”
Tribal Council Chairman Harry Smiskin said in a telephone interview that leaders are still waiting to hear from the federal government to finalize the settlement, and that there is a plan to disburse it to tribal members.
“We’re waiting just like the membership,” he said. “We’ve made those inquiries, too, and are waiting.”
When asked about the group’s call for the impeachment of the Tribal Council, he said, “The concern I have is they are misinformed people. The important thing to remember is that Salazar money hasn’t even got here yet.”
Smiskin said he and the rest of the Tribal Council had to sign a confidentiality agreement about the Salazar talks after U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan in Washington, D.C., ordered that negotiations remain confidential.
But organizers of the rally said the demonstration was about more than just the Salazar settlement.
“It’s more than that,” said organizer Cres Yadao. “It has to do with accountability for all or tribal government monies — we want full accountability.”
He said he and other tribal members have questioned tribal spending for years, adding that they’ve been kept in the dark over the Salazar settlement, which is escalating tensions.
“We know that confidentiality is part of that, but we should be kept informed,” Yadao said. “We want an open communication between our Tribal Council and us. Too many closed-door meetings.”
Kyle Spencer, who helped organize the event, said he hopes it raises awareness about the need for more disclosure about tribal spending. Both Spencer and Yadao said they have been repeatedly denied such information.
“I hope this will bring awareness and change with our tribal government,” he said. “I’m hoping it will bring impeachment of all our Tribal Council.”
• Phil Ferolito can be reached at 509-577-7749 or firstname.lastname@example.org.