By Brandon Stone / Skagit Valley Herald
The Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s constitutional amendment vote and addressed the uncertainty some have felt regarding the tribe’s borders.
The tribe sees the amendments as a move toward self-determination, removing extensive oversight by the BIA over day-to-day activities.
In a letter to the tribe dated July 7, BIA Northwest Regional Director Stanley Speaks said the approval should in no way be read as approving an expansion of the tribe’s reservation, something that local governments were concerned about.
The tribe voted on May 23, approving each of the 29 proposed amendments by at least 80 percent. The BIA was required to approve or disapprove the results within 45 days.
“I can’t underscore enough how happy the tribe is today,” Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby said.
Speaks said in the letter that he acknowledged the concerns of Skagit County, the city of Anacortes, Tesoro Refining and Marketing Co. and nearby property owners, that the amendments could extend the boundaries of the reservation to March Point.
“Nothing in this approval shall be construed as altering the Tribe’s reservation boundaries,” Speaks said in the letter. “Absent a formal opinion or federal court decision to the contrary, the United States’ position remains that the reservation’s boundaries were established by the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott and subsequently modified by the Executive Order of September 9, 1873.”
He also said this approval will not change the tribe’s jurisdiction over nontribal members on tribal-owned land outside of the reservation, something that also worried county officials and others.
Speaks said he sent a letter to the tribe in September raising similar concerns, and the tribe addressed them.
County Commissioner Lisa Janicki said the county was happy to read a clear statement from Speaks that nothing will change for nontribal members in Skagit County as a result of the approval.
“A clear boundary makes it easier for everyone,” she said.
She said she spoke to representatives from the Department of the Interior on a trip to Washington, D.C., in June, and made the county’s concerns clear. That department oversees the BIA.
Cladoosby said the tribe has always believed March Point to be part of the reservation per the Point Elliott Treaty and was taken from them by the 1873 executive order. He has contended that the taking was illegal.
“On (July 7, 2017), everything went on as normal throughout Skagit County,” Cladoosby said. “Thanks to the Department of Interior for reinforcing what we’ve been saying.”
The BIA has been encouraging tribes to make these amendments, allowing them to do things such as hire attorneys without approval, for the last several years.
Janicki said she hopes to move past the concerns and work collaboratively with the tribe.