Letters and Documents on the Swinomish Jurisdiction Issue
Below is a series of documents relating to the Swinomish jurisdiction proposal. These provide the basis for the “grave concern” expressed by Skagit County commissioners to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Please review, download, print, share and take action.
As a summary of key elements of this concern, the Senior Deputy Attorney for Skagit County wrote a letter on April 24, 2017 to a Swinomish Tribal attorney seeking direct answers regarding the intent of the Tribe on the jurisdiction issue. (The letter available below.)
He succinctly stated the question this way:
Simply put, SITC appears to be asking that Skagit County government hand over the keys to the Skagit Valley’s land base, and thus it is entirely rational to ask where it is SITC plans to drive the car.
After asking specific questions, he summarized the Skagit County administration’s understanding of the issue:
Absent your input, here is what SITC is pursuing in our understanding: SITC intends pass the Constitutional Amendments through a tribal vote and obtain Department of the Interior approval, after which SITC will insist that both parties to the Treaty have approved the “jurisdictional expansion” under the Treaty over anything that has any arguable nexus to habitat and the environment. Skagit County will appeal this federal agency action to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, during the course of which SITC will insist that Skagit County should participate in some form of a “consensus based decision-making process” in lieu of litigation, more or less exactly what SITC demanded in the context of the 1996 Memorandum of Agreement regarding water rights in the Skagit Basin.
A major issue, as the Senior Deputy pointed out, is the very troubling history of attempted resolution of issues with the Swinomish.
While Skagit County has no issues with consultation with area tribes and does so whenever asked, the so-called “consensus” approach to shared decision-making/jurisdiction has been a demonstrable disaster.
While the 1996 MOA was sold to the community as a “cooperative” forum in which we would work together on water (a “fifty year deal”, as Chairman Cladoosby is fond of saying), SITC weaponized the requirement of “consensus” by opposing any sort of decision, and, today, as a direct result, rural landowners and agriculture have no access to water rights in the Skagit Basin. While I recognize that Chairman Cladoosby has a different version of events that he articulates to the media, that is how we perceive it, and, as Marty Loesch is fond of saying, perception is reality.
Skagit County will pursue this issue to the US Supreme Court if necessary”
Accordingly, if SITC persists with its claims for off-reservation jurisdiction, Skagit County will be pursuing all available opportunities to oppose it. Because SITC’s jurisdictional assertions will impact and degrade the jurisdictional authority of every non-SITC government in the region, we expect that others will join. As you are likely aware, we have engaged the Von Briesen & Roper law firm, which has successfully assisted municipal governments against similarly aggressive expansionism by Oneida and other tribes around the country.
While that is one possible outcome, it is our strong preference to attempt to understand what SITC is doing, and try, despite a litany of past failures, to find common ground that respects SITC objectives as well as our common society’s core values of democracy, equal representation, and existing economic expectations. That starts with transparency about our objectives and goals.
He notes that the Swinomish has made clear their goal of eradicating Skagit agriculture and returning the land to pre-European conditions. He also notes that Chairman Cladoosby has made clear his intent and strategy in national publications.
In this respect, every conversation and communication I’ve had with SITC representatives over the past decade about this question has had a singular focus: return of the Skagit ecosystem to pre-European colonization habitat conditions, benefitting tribal fisheries at the expense of agriculture. I fully expect that you will protest to the contrary, but SITC’s actions and statements fully confirm this point of view.
As your Chairman recently explained in a national publication:
“Gone is the 19th-century attempt to defeat Europeans or the 20th-century attempt to assimilate. The strategy now is to marshal attorneys, money. land, and political clout to outlast them. “‘I call us the weebee people,’ said Brian Cladoosby. president of the National Congress of American Indians. ‘We be here when they came, we be here when they gone. ‘”
November 28, 2016 letter from Skagit County to BIA expressing concern about Swinomish requests
Letter from BIA to Swinomish giving guidance on proposed changes including removal of Tribe from Secretary (of the Interior’s) authority
Letter from Tesoro to Secretary Zinke on jurisdiction proposal
April 24 letter from Skagit County Prosecutor’s Office to Swinomish requesting clarification on proposal and stating consequences of continuation
Swinomish proposed constitution changes