April 30, 2012
Thank you for allowing me to present my personal experience with Indian Civil Rights in the United States and to present recommendations for the Special Rapporteur on ways in which the United States should reform law and policy regarding Native American Civil Rights.
My name is Carolyn Lubenau. I have been an enrolled citizen of the Snoqualmie Tribe here in Washington State since birth. I am a member of the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization. I have always been active in my tribe and I have served on our Tribal Council, the governing branch of our tribe.
This testimony is provided on behalf of all Native Americans suffering under oppressive and corrupt tribal governments. The current United States policy of turning a blind eye to tribal corruption and lawlessness is just another shameful policy in the sorry history of the United States doing harm to Native Americans. The United States government has a trust responsibility which is assured through its Treaties. If the United States is supposed to represent that which it governs and stands for, then how can it represent that which it does not care for? For certainly, the United States cannot care for Native Americans because it allows this cruel and destructive illegal political maneuvering of banishing and disenrolling true citizens from their tribes to continue unabated.
In 1968 Congress passed the Indian Civil Rights Act and for ten years after the passage Federal courts heard approximately 80 cases. These cases covered many subjects including tribal election disputes, tribal membership and voting; tribal police activities, conduct of tribal council members, and standards for enforcing due process of law and equal protection of the laws in tribal settings. During these ten years, the general perception was that ICRA gave the federal court broad powers to hear and decide claims of civil rights violations by tribal governments. This changed dramatically, however, in 1978 with the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez , 439 U.S. 49 (1978) which determined, amongst other things, that “while the ICRA is generally patterned after the Bill of Rights, the same language does not necessarily have to be interpreted in the same way; tribes have the right to determine their own membership and that tribal remedies must first be exhausted before a dispute can be heard in federal court.
Today, the U.S. Government spends billions of dollars both here and across the world in what they claim is a defense to freedom and civil rights…they spend millions to protect and enforce the civil rights of their citizens. But In the last 33 years since the Santa Clara decision, the United States Federal Government hasn’t spent a single dollar defending Native American Civil Rights, not a single dollar to protect and enforce the civil rights of Native Americans being denied those rights by their own tribal governments. This is my story, my experience with Indian Civil Rights in the United States.
In 2007 I was elected as the Vice-Chairman of the Snoqualmie Tribe. Three months after the election, the people who were not re-elected and who had held position for many years started an “illegal election campaign” with their relative, our honorary chief leading the way.
Unable to remove us from office according to our laws, the honorary Chief over-threw the elected government by imposing on the tribe his “hereditary non-constitutional rights” without a vote from the people. Public officials put in place to protect our rights and with a trust responsibility to us refused to recognize our elected government but instead allowed a non-native tribal administrator and the honorary chief to take control of our tribe. The honorary chief with the help of local law enforcement suspended the newly elected council members without a hearing or an investigation – they also suspended the Chairman of our tribe because he wouldn’t go along with them.
We were locked out of the tribal offices and they hired armed security guards to keep us out. They then proceeded to disenroll 80 of our family members. When we fought back against these tactics and they realized we would not go away they banished 9 of us. Three of the banished were spiritual leaders; one spiritual leader was banished for saying a prayer the honorary chief felt admonished his actions. Banishment in our tribe is a life-time sentence. We are erased from the tribal rolls and our families erased with us for events they were hardly aware of. The banishment charges against us were called treason. Most people when they hear the term “banished” think of violence, of lifetimes spent breaking the law and repeat offenders of serious crimes. Our banishment can only be described as an illegal, political maneuver. We were not given the liberty to defend ourselves against our accusers, there was no trial, no investigation, and there wasn’t even any credible evidence. We were banished on groundless accusations without due process or equal protection.
In 2009, the permanent banishment was overturned in a precedent setting decision in the United States Federal Court Case, Sweet vs Hinzman. And yet today, and despite being fully reinstated by our tribal members over three years ago, our corrupt tribal council will not allow us back into the tribe. These disenrollments and banishments are not the traditional Snoqualmie way.
To tell you a little about me, I'm a Senior Business Analyst with The Boeing Company. I just celebrated my 43rd anniversary there. It was my Grandmother's and Mother's greatest wish that we be educated and learn as much as we could to help the people.
I’m here now sacrificing our inherent desire and custom to resolve this dispute privately. We have tried in so many ways to end this dispute without success. I see now that this story must be told because we are not alone on this journey; nor are my people. Coast to coast, all over the country, corrupt Native American governments have banished and disenrolled over 11,000 tribal members. And this number continues to grow. They simply disenroll or banish away the conflicts. With just a few words life-time citizens of the Snoqualmie tribe were removed without a single argument for us, no one to stand with us and no place to be heard
A research project published in the Western Legal History (Volume 17, Number 2, Summer/Fall 2004 by Professor David E. Wilkins titled "Exiling One's Kin: Banishment and Disenrollment in Indian Country” describes these modern day banishments for political reasons as "Malicious and unjustifiable", "actions with violate not only indigenous values and traditions, but the basic civil and human rights of those banished." He also wrote an article in March of this year titled: Depopulation in Indian Country, 21st Century Style. He reported that Native nations in at least seventeen states are engaging in the practice of “exiling ones kin” through banishment and disenrollments and that it was never widely used as a tool for dealing with disharmony. Banishment is not a traditional or cultural custom in our case – we were banished by tribal officials without any concern for civil rights, human rights, tribal customs and traditions, or due process – we were arbitrarily banished us as a means to solidify their own economic and political base.
When we insisted on being reinstated and given our tribal identification cards, the tribal council issued a new seven year banishment – they call it a sanction. The new sanctions say we will be arrested if we step on tribal property and that we may not participate in tribal gatherings or speak to tribal members. We are restricted from voting or holding office. In affect, we were banished again without due process.
This council refuses to represent the people and continues to violate all of the Snoqualmie Tribal Members civil and human rights. People tell us if we don’t like what they do to vote them out – and our tribal members have tried continuously since 2007 to do just that. Each time there is an election and they do not win their attorney’s and non-tribal staff find ways to contest the elections, or simply ignore the results.
These unlawful actions have paralyzed our tribe. Other Snoqualmie Tribal members are afraid to come forward or speak out because of the constant fear of being disenrolled or banished. If they stand with us they are threatened with the loss of Indian Health Services and even the food bank. They threatened an 83 year old tribal elder. This elder is not even related to us personally, but she is angered by these actions. She was told in writing that if she didn’t refrain from talking “politics” on her drive to the clinics they would suspend her from “eligibility “eliminating the health care benefits she so desperately needs. She speaks for the traditions and customs of our people who did not practice these dishonorable acts.
What this court case taught us is that civil rights do not count if you are Native American. Even if a Federal Judge says you were denied “due process” – it’s like saying it is raining outside. It is simply an observation. There was no justice, no punishment, not even a sharp word or admonishment; there isn’t even a way to enforce his decision.
Our own tribal court has been blocked by the tribal council and tribal members cannot take any civil matter to the court or take any action against the tribal council. Our tribal council refuses to follow our laws and customs; there are no services for tribal members who speak out against them. The tribal council has completely locked themselves away from the people and refuse to step down from positions they are no longer entitled to. We are left with no place to be heard and no place to turn. There is no law or justice for us and the United States Government has aided this lawless council to stay in power by calling it an “internal dispute” and recognizing this illegal council as the “seated council” even though their terms have expired and they refuse to hold meetings or elections.
These are life sentences. We are being denied our right to assemble, to protest, to vote, to have religious freedoms, to serve our own people and to be on the sacred lands of our ancestors. We are being denied the right to pray and find comfort and fellowship with our people. We are being denied our culture and heritage. Innocent descendants are being denied their birthright. Tribal Sovereignty should not be a means to perpetrate these hateful crimes. Disenrollment’s which are banishments in disguise, should not be allowed to slip through the Federal courts under vague, misinterpreted case law and cruel government policies. Our treaty rights and the trust responsibility of these government officials are being violated and ignored.
In 2011 the Canadian government passed a "groundbreaking law which allows people living on aboriginal reserves to seek protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act if they feel they have faced discrimination by their band council." I find it heartbreaking that it is 2012 and we still do not have these rights protected in the United States.
Our banishment is in direct violation of Article 9 of the Declaration of Human Rights which states: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
It is also in violation of Article 9 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which in part states: Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation….. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such rights.
The reform we are suggesting is the United States should amend the Indian Civil Rights act to add enforcement of those laws and protection of our human rights to correct this injustice and to honor the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, perhaps then there will be justice for the United States Native Americans or at least a fair and equal chance.
In closing, I would like to quote Dr. Martin Luther King when he said:
“It maybe true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.”
When I feel overwhelmed with the work that must be done, I remember that the violets in the mountains have broken the rocks. Please don’t give up on us and this struggle for protected human rights.
Thank-you for your kindness and for listening to this testimony.
“All around the circle of the sky I hear the Spirit's voice. “Civil Rights” -An unbroken circle for justice