Concerns raised about Sauk-Suiattle tribal firings

DARRINGTON — The Bureau of Indian Affairs wants members of the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe to make sure its actions won’t harm federal funding for the tribe.

Judy Joseph, superintendent of the Puget Sound Agency of the BIA in Everett, and some of her staff traveled to the Sauk-Suiattle reservation Tuesday morning to speak with the Tribal Council.

On June 10, a group of the tribe’s employees were fired amid a dispute among members of the council.

Sauk-Suiattle Chairwoman Janice Mabee confirmed last week that 11 of the tribe’s 64 employees were fired, a move she said she did not support. The tribe has about 200 enrolled members.

Phone calls to several other tribal council members asking for comment had not been returned by Tuesday afternoon.

Most of those whose jobs were terminated are non-Indian. They include the tribe’s human resources director, the grants and contracts director, a biologist, a police officer, a lawyer, a nurse and several department clerks.

Allegations of racial discrimination worry the BIA, Joseph said.

“We are concerned about maintaining the tribe’s federal funding,” Joseph said. “We sat them down and asked them to tell us what’s really going on. Our visit was basically to give the council an opportunity to talk about our concerns.”

The bureau, however, is only concerned about matters that involve the agency, she said.

“The Tribal Council is sovereign, but if they ask for funding they could have trouble,” Joseph said.

Federal funding to the tribe is primarily for its natural resources division, Joseph said. The amount is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — a figure she did not have at hand, but which she called “considerable.”

The Tribal Council agreed to outline its plan of action for a program review and resulting restructuring based on that review, Joseph said.

“We aren’t expecting anything immediately,” she said.

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