Members of the Colville Confederated Tribes are being called to Nespelem, much as Joseph and Mary were summoned to Bethlehem.
Instead of being taxed, though, the Colvilles will get to vote on how to spend $10 million in accumulated revenue from tribal casinos.
Voting by secret ballot will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday during a general membership meeting at Nespelem Community Center. Only those who come will be allowed to vote.
That’s a departure from ordinary elections, in which a large percentage of ballots is mailed in by members who live off the reservation.
Five options will be on the ballot, and members will be allowed to write in their own proposals. Proposals on the ballot range from turning all the money over to the tribal government to distributing 80 percent of it among the members while giving 20 percent to the government.
Three other proposals call for splitting the money evenly between a pair of uses:
Building a jail for adult and juvenile offenders, and purchasing land inside the reservation that is now owned by non-Indians.
Building the jail - the tribes have none now and must contract with county governments - and distributing half the money among tribal members.
Distributing half the money among tribal members and assigning the rest to tribal government programs.
Officials have identified slightly more than $7 million in needed services that the tribal government can’t afford.
Tim Brewer, a tribal attorney, noted in a public statement that any casino income tribal members receive would be taxable - unlike traditional “per capita” payments and disbursement of a settlement for lands flooded by Grand Coulee Dam. Also, Brewer noted, distribution of casino income would affect eligibility for public assistance.
The proposal to distribute 80 percent of the casino income among members may run afoul of federal regulations, Brewer warned. He said a proposed regulation would allow only 50 percent of casino income to be paid directly to members.
Brewer urged members to consider how direct payments could affect the tribes’ legal and political struggles to keep the casinos open.
“The bottom line,” he stated, “is that it will be more difficult to win the gaming battle if gaming funds are used for per capita payments rather than for tribal services, such as education, housing, children and elder services, land purchases and other public projects that benefit tribal members.”
Voting will be limited to tribal members who were 18 or older on or before April 12. There were 5,715 eligible voters in last fall’s general election.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.