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Remainder of settlement going to tribal programs

Colvilles have distributed half of $193 million

WENATCHEE – The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation will stick with a plan to spend half of a $193 million settlement on tribal programs, rather than distribute it to tribal members to spend as they please, the Colville Business Council announced Monday.

The statement from the council came after it received a petition, signed by one-third of eligible tribal voters, asking them to distribute the rest of the settlement funds to tribal members. Half of the funds were distributed to members in two payments earlier this year.

The plan unanimously adopted by the council in October uses the remaining settlement money to fund senior centers, health clinics, resource restoration, language development and other programs, tribal chairman John Sirois said in a statement.

“We authorized the initial distribution because we wanted to provide tribal members with much needed capital,” he said. But he added that the council adopted the plan “because we wanted to ensure future generations, and the community as a whole, would benefit from the settlement money.”

The Colvilles were among 114 tribes that filed suit against the federal government to reclaim money lost in mismanaged accounts and from royalties for oil, gas, grazing and timber rights on tribal lands. The government announced in April that it had agreed to pay more than $1 billion to settle some of those cases, including $193 million to the Colville.

The Colville tribes comprise 12 Indian bands, whose reservation covers 1.4 million acres of north-central Washington’s Okanogan Highlands. The Colvilles have about 9,500 members, though as many as half have moved away from the reservation to find work or seek opportunities elsewhere.

The tribe distributed 20 percent of the settlement to its members – about $4,000 per member – and had planned to spend the remaining 80 percent to restore resources damaged by mismanagement.

Some tribal members then called for a referendum vote seeking to distribute an additional 30 percent, or a total of half of the money. That nonbinding referendum passed by a margin of 10 to 1, and the council agreed to the additional 30 percent distribution, or more than $6,000 per member.

Some tribal members did not receive the second payment, or only received part of it, if they owed money to tribal programs, such as child support or tribal credit.

The withheld payments felt like retaliation for asking for more of the settlement money to be distributed, said Yvonne Swan, a tribal elder who presented the council with a petition seeking the rest of the settlement.

She said many tribal members believe the entire amount should be distributed because they are the ones who suffered from the mismanagement of resources. But mostly, Swan said, tribal members want the money to be distributed because of the severe poverty they are facing.

“Our people are hurting,” Swan told the Wenatchee World on Tuesday. “I really wish they would rethink this.”