Skokomish Tribal Nation

Skokomish Indian Tribe Constitution

Year

Location: Washington State 

Population: 489 

Date of Constitution: 1938, as amended in 1980 

 

Native Nations
Topics
Citation

Skokomish Indian Tribe. 1938. "Constitution of Skokomish Indian Tribe." Shelton, WA. 

Skokomish Indian Tribe: Terms of Office Excerpt

Year

ARTICLE IV - TRIBAL COUNCIL

Sec. 4.  Terms of Office

Each Tribal Council member shall be elected for a term of four (4) years.  Terms of office for the seven (7) council members shall be staggered, two (2) members being elected each year for three (3) consecutive years and one (1) member being elected in the fourth year. 

Native Nations
Topics
Citation

Skokomish Indian Tribe. 1938. "Constitution of Skokomish Indian Tribe." Shelton, WA.

Skokomish Indian Tribe: Initiative & Referendum Excerpt

Year

ARTICLE VIII - INITIATIVE

Section 1.  Right of Initiative. Voters of the Skokomish tribe shall have the right to cause a vote of the General Council on any legislation proposed by the voters and on any proposed or enacted ordinance or resolution of the Tribal Council. No later than thirty (30) days after he or she receives a petition signed by at least one-third (1/3) of the eligible voters, the President of the General Council shall call an election according to the procedures for calling special General Council meetings.

Sec. 2.  Initiative Procedure. Voting on all initiatives shall be by secret, written ballot. No initiative vote shall be valid unless the number of persons casting ballots is equal at least to sixty percent (60%) of the number of persons who cast ballots in the most recent annual tribal election. Unless at least two-thirds (2/3) of all persons who cast ballots vote in favor of the proposed measure or action, the initiative proposal shall be deemed to have failed.
 

Native Nations
Topics
Citation

Skokomish Indian Tribe. 1938. "Constitution of Skokomish Indian Tribe." Shelton, WA. 

Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board

Year

Serving tribes in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB) was created in 1972 to increase tribes’ ability to exercise control over the design and development of tribal health care delivery systems. Governed by tribal government delegates, NPAIHB facilitates intertribal coordination and promotes intergovernmental consultation. A leader in data collection and advocacy, NPAIHB also administers the first and largest tribal epidemiology center.

Resource Type
Citation

"Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board". Honoring Nations: 2003 Honoree. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2004. Report.

Permissions

This Honoring Nations report is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

Miriam Jorgensen: Considering People-Made Law in Your Constitution (Presentation Highlight)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In this highlight from the presentation "Key Things a Constitution Should Address: 'How Do We Make Law?'," Miriam Jorgensen lays out some of the different ways that Native nations can provide mechanisms for citizens of those nations to make laws or change laws governing those nations.

Resource Type
Citation

Jorgensen, Miriam. "Considering People-Made Law in Your Constitution (Presentation Highlight)." Tribal Constitutions seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 2, 2014. Presentation highlight.

"So what if a representative council isn't the only place you want that law made? Here critically I'm going to point out that there might be lots of decisions that you decide are perfectly appropriate to depute to a legislative council, to a representative council of some sort. But there may be certain kinds of decisions that you don't want to give over to them, that as a community, as a people you think there are certain kinds of decisions that you want to have broader agreement on and that's where a general council decision or a decision of the entire body of the nation, of all the voting age citizens or whatever, might be something that you want to make a provision for in your constitution.

I will say this one caveat, which is the first point above there. If general councils are the only way you're making law, that every time you want to make a new decision and you take it to the entire voting public, most research evidence proves...suggests...I shouldn't say proves because all that research do is sort of say, "˜Here's the general trend that we see out there.' Most research suggests that if you take most decisions to a general council, all decisions to the general council, that's a recipe for instability. There's just in a sense too much authority given over to kind of who showed up in the high school gym on any given night. But very successful Indigenous constitutions or other kinds of non-Indigenous constitutions too do have certain kinds of decisions that they say, "˜Yeah, this needs to go to a wider public.'

Now for a lot of native nations, one of the decisions that almost always goes to a broader public are decisions about land. So when you look across Native nation constitutions, Indigenous constitutions, and you see, okay, here's the powers of the tribal council or whatever the representative legislative body is, the congress, again, a council or a legislature, whatever it's going to be termed, there's still almost always when there are decisions to be made about purchasing land, selling land, changing the use of land, those go to a broader body, to a general council of some sort. So that's one way.

Another newer kind of provision we see in some of the very modern tribal constitutions might be called referendum or initiative and these are not quite the same as a general council meeting, but it comes from sort of the, I guess, the progressive and reform movement where basically even in non-Indigenous nations people said, "˜Well, individuals should have a voice. Individuals should be able to challenge their governments not just at election time but should be able to challenge and say, 'Hey, my representatives on the council didn't carry forth a piece of legislation that I would have liked to have seen'.' And initiative and referendum provide an opportunity for people to get enough signatures and then push a piece of legislation forward themselves as a population. So some constitutions provide for that kind of effort as well. And I've provided some examples in the handout first of limited general council power.

So here from the Coquille Indian Nation, where they've given the opportunity to the general council to make certain kinds of decisions, they're going to elect the tribal council, they can amend the constitution and they can make advisory recommendations. There isn't a listing here about land but again that shows you providing a general council with some limited legislative authority."

Here's an example from Skokomish [Tribal Nation], where they have an initiative provision and I love this initiative provision because it basically says, "˜Yeah, yeah, we know that people may still want to come forward and make law and not just have the council do all of that for us,' but look at this, they say, "˜An initiative can't just be a way to destabilize government. You can't just use an initiative to go out there and say, 'Oh, hey, that council, they didn't do what I wanted. There, I'm just going to bring an initiative forward and make law without them'.' Skokomish says, "˜I recognize that I want people to be or we was a nation recognize we want people to be able to make law and to put it out there, but they need to have 60 percent of the number of people who cast ballots in the last election sign a petition for this initiative and then it has to pass by two-thirds of all persons who voted in that election.' So it's a pretty high bar, right? It says, "˜This is going to...you can pass people-made law, but it has to meet a pretty high standard before it...otherwise it's going to be too de-stabilizing to government.'

Just a little aside, a lot of political scientists...I do economics and political science is my sort of academic degrees...a lot of political scientists look at California and say, "˜California doesn't do this well enough.' What do we know about California? Constantly they're having these referenda and initiatives and a lot of people said that California has too low of a bar, it allows too much of that disruption of the day to day flow of political business to go on by setting the bar too low. So it's too easy in a sense for the populace to kind of disrupt the government business by forcing these things forward.

So as a tribal nation with an even smaller population, I think it's really important to consider, yeah, it might be nice to have people-made law and to have provisions for that in your constitution, but really take seriously this notion of which kinds of things are you going to depute to a representative council, which kinds of things are you going to depute to a regularly convened general council and which opportunities do you really want to give to initiative and referendum. So that's a set of allocational decisions you need to be making in your constitution."

Denny Hurtado: Addressing Tough Governance Issues

Author
Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Former Skokomish Tribal Nation Chairman Denny Hurtado discusses how he, his fellow leaders and his nation exercised its sovereignty in order to navigate past some tough governance challenges to fund their government, restore their land base, and protect their natural resources.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Hurtado, Denny. "Addressing Tough Governance Issues." Emerging Leaders Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 26, 2009. Presentation.

"Good morning. I'll tell a joke at the end too [because] that's part of who we are as people -- humor. I see people I know too, people from Washington. I see people from the Chehalis Tribe back there and they're close to me and close to us. We're only like 30 miles apart. When I go speak, education is my passion [because] I think that's a key thing that as tribal people that we need to really focus on that, but I'll talk a little bit about that later.

But I'd like to introduce myself. My Indian name is [Skokomish language] and the short definition of that is that when you come out of a hot house into the cold air you see that breathe of air. And that's kind of what the definition of my name means, [Skokomish language]. I got it from my great-uncle Dr. Charlie. My cousins like to think it's hot air and I like to think it's fresh air. And so we go back and forth, back and forth about that all the time.

But I'd like to talk about two things. One is the fish tax issue, when I first started becoming involved with the tribe. And the other one is about a lawsuit that we filed against the City of Tacoma for first damming our river, and then diverting the whole water out of the north fork of the watershed. Those are the two things I want to talk about real quick [because] we only have 20 minutes. But I'm also a recovering tribal chairman. And it's kind of like that [because] there's a lot of demands on you and your life and it's a hard job to deal with. Especially with us, when we started. 

Our small tribe -- it's a small tribe in Washington State, population of 900 people, small land base of 5,000 acres in God's country, a beautiful place. And when the Boldt Decision passed in Washington State, [it] was a big issue. The tribes were fighting for their right to fish in their usual and accustomed fishing grounds and the fishing business in Washington State was big business. And so of course the state didn't want us to have that right. And so we went to court and fought for that right and won that right. And the right guaranteed us 50% of the fish in our usual and  accustomed  fishing grounds, which meant on and off reservation. And so that was the beginning of the fish wars and a lot of racism came out. There was bumper stickers that said ‘Save a Salmon, Kill an Indian.' And it just happened recently, too, when the Makah's got their whale. There was bumper stickers up there, they were saying ‘Save a Whale, Kill a Makah.' And so we have to deal with these issues all the time of racism and ignorance. So once that passed then our people started going fishing off the reservation, buying big boats, making big money [because] fishing is big money, especially salmon.

And so when Boldt was decided the feds gave us money to help us manage our fishery. However, they never give us enough money to succeed. They only give us enough money to fail. And so we had to start thinking about ways to supplement what little money we got from the federal government. And so we started talking about, ‘Well, let's pass a fish tax.' And oh boy, that was no fun at all. [Because] Indians back then, probably still today, say, ‘We're Indians, we don't have to pay taxes. Why do we have to pay taxes and act like Europeans?' We're thinking, well, we're having these problems out there because it expanded our territory immensely. Because before we had to fish on the reservation, now we can go in our usual and accustomed fishing grounds, which meant we had to cover a larger territory to enforce our regulations that we put out for our tribal members. And then we started hearing issues about, ‘Oh, yeah, everybody's outlawing out there,' which means they're fishing illegally -- they're fishing out of season and what not. And so we're saying, ‘Hey, if we don't control our fishery, then that'll give the government a right to come in and say, ‘See, we told you people. You guys can't manage your fishery. We need to really rethink this and maybe go back and do something different.''

And so as the council, we started talking about imposing this fish tax. So we developed this ordinance which was a five percent fish tax, wasn't really much, but it was a lot of money [because] people were making a lot of money. So we figure well, we can make some money to help supplement our fishery program. So people were just complaining and I'd get threats. Back then, this was in the late '70s and Boldt was decided in 1975. And back then, like you said, it was different. We would go party and that's who we were and it wasn't a good thing. But one time I walked into this bar, and there's this little old lady, God bless her soul, she's gone now. She's like 4 foot 10, but she was one of the most radical people in our tribe. And she came up to me and she goes, ‘I'm going to kill you.' And I'm like, ‘Well, okay. If you do, my mom's going to kill you.' And people feared her because she had killed two of her husbands. And I actually feared her, but I had to stand up and say, 'Be strong.'

So then everybody refused to pay the tax. Not one person paid the tax. But before that, I think a key element of trying to get ordinance passed on your reservations is that you have to educate people why you want to do something and what is the purpose and what is the goal. And so I started thinking about it. 'Well, okay, we need to really start educating our members about what are we going to use this five percent of money we're going to get for?' So we developed this plan, and it was like 50 percent would go directly to fisheries department for whatever they wanted to do, enhancement or whatever. And then 25 percent would go to enforcement because we needed to hire another law enforcement officer so they can go out and make sure that our people weren't outlawing. And then the other 25 percent, and we did a...we had a general council meeting and we're asking what is important to our people. And so always education and elders come at the top and goes like that -- treaty rights. And so I figure, well, 'Why don't we dedicate 25 percent of this money to education and elders?' So like 25 percent of that went to the education, for education purposes and for elders, supporting elders' program. And it was still, people were okay with that, ‘Yeah, okay. That's good. We can kind of support that.' But in the end, when it came time -- looking at all the people fishing, and the majority of our people are fishermen -- nobody paid the tax. I'm like, well, okay. Well, let's just wait until next fishing season.

Next fishing season came rolling around. They came to fisheries to get their permit, tribal fishing card. And so we said, ‘Okay.' First one came we said, ‘Oh, you owe, $2,800 before you can get your fishing permit.' And they're like, ‘What?! Nah, we ain't...' ‘Well, don't pay it then. Next.' And it went like that, and pretty soon everybody realized that they had to get this permit and pay their tax first in order to get their permit so they could exercise their fishing right. And that's kind of how it went down. Everybody paid their tax 'cause there was a lot of money to be made, but they couldn't make that money unless they got their fishing permit. And it was a big issue. It was a big step for us, because we're so engrained in not wanting to pay taxes and not wanting to be like Europeans and not this and that. But I think that in order to supplement your tribal governments, you have to take bold stands and go forward and look at it in a different way. But it was challenging, it was scary, but you have to stand your ground and that's how things get done.

The other issue I'm going to talk about is what's called the Cushman case. I dedicated about 25 years of my life to this suit. Cushman was a suit about the north fork of our river. The City of Tacoma in the 1920s had went in there and completely dammed the north fork of the river and diverted all of the water out of the river down these big pipes so they could generate power at the powerhouse. And it was just, their whole focus was just power generation. What that did to our reservation was that because of the flows that that north fork created in the river, over time the riverbed rose like 10-15 feet and then our reservation started getting flooded, our septic systems were becoming corrupted. And so we thought, 'Well, we really need to focus on doing something about this.'

When we started this process, it was like David and Goliath. Here's Skokomish, this little tribe with very little money and very little political clout fighting Goliath, which was the City of Tacoma, which had deep pockets, which were connected to all the politicians -- Norm Dicks being one of them, now the chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

When we were pursuing this suit, we realized that we really had to make sure that we did all the science. What I've learned from this suit, I've learned more from being involved in this suit than going to college for seven years, because you're so immersed in it and you learn about hydrology, anthropology, economics; all this stuff was wrapped up into this one suit.

I thought, 'Well, how am I going to sell this to the council and to the people more importantly, the general council.' So what I decided, I thought, 'Well, the more you get people involved in the process, the better off you are because that way you're more accountable and you're more transparent.' Those are two key things that as tribal leaders we need to make sure we do, that we're accountable and that we're transparent so that the membership can see exactly what we're doing and how we're doing it. [Because] that's when a lot of rumors start to boil up and if they don't know what we're doing, then they start saying, ‘Oh, they're just going to get the money and do whatever they want with it and not listen to us.'

So I had planned to start this what's called the 'Rights Protection Committee.' And the way that committee was designed was that we would get members from key families on the reservation to be part of this committee. That way everybody and everyone of their families had someone in there to represent their issues and concerns. And it was great for a while and then that was like 15-17 years. And then I got married and I decided, 'Well, I'm going to come off council and dedicate my time to my wife. So after a couple years, after that then the Rights Protection Committee kind of went away. In the meantime, we were ordered [into] court mediation to try and resolve this issue out of court.

And so just recently, last few months ago, we came up with a settlement package to settle this suit that lasted 80 years. I really never thought I would see the day when we would settle it. I didn't think it was going to happen, and it wasn't going to happen because we had a general council meeting and I started hearing rumors, ‘Well, the council over there, we don't trust them,' and you know how it goes. I'm speaking to the choir and they don't always trust us. And so there was going to be a vote at the general council meeting to not accept the proposal. I was looking at the proposal and we wanted, of course we always want more. But as leaders we need to figure out, 'Well, is it worth it to take that crap shoot and go to court and might not get much or less, or you might get more?,' you just never know. But in looking at the settlement package, part of it was getting 1,400 acres of prime land back to our reservation. And that really, to me, that was the main thing for me. The money I could live without, but I could use it too, but that wasn't really the purpose of our suit. The purpose of our suit was to get the water back into the river and that was a big part of our suit and we've always stayed that course.

And so I think you have to be resilient and persistent and stay your course all the way to the very end. [Because] in the midst of all this, we had another meeting like ten years ago with Tacoma and they were trying to buy us off with peanuts. 'Here, $10 million,' but not in cash but in other little different ways, in fisheries and what not. And we're like, 'No, this is not about money for us [because] our elders told us that we just want the water back in the river.' And so part of that settlement is that we do get the water back in the river and the 1,400 acres. But tribal people, a lot of people, this is bad times right now so people do need money and I understand that, but we stayed the course. This is about bringing the water back to our river.

So at this meeting all these rumblings came up, ‘Well, we're going to vote it down. We're going to vote it down.' I'm like, ‘Ah, geez.' I'm not on council anymore, but I'm on the budget committee. And if you're not on council, the best committee to be on is the budget committee [because] that's where you see where everything goes and how everything works. And so I was thinking, 'Well, okay.' I got up and I did this speech about how our elders wanted the water back in the river and our focus wasn't about money and we need to be united in our effort in this [because] if Tacoma sees that we're divided then they're going to use it against us. And so I said, ‘Okay, I recommend that we reinstate the Rights Protection Committee, that we have members from each family on the reservation be on this committee to represent them, we have two council members from the council to be on this Rights Protection Committee, we have two youth -- I think as council people we need to start mentoring our young people to be the leaders so we need to involve more of our kids in the stuff we do at the tribal level -- and then we have two elders to be part of that committee.' And that's kind of what sold the vote.

So then I just said, ‘I call for a vote. Let's vote on this. We're either going to do it or we're not going to do it.' And it ended up being unanimous; we accepted the settlement. In the end it was $46 million. That's more money than we've ever had in our history and we got our water back. We're getting our water back and we're reinstituting the fish runs in that river. We had a sockeye run that went up so we have a plan to reinstitute sockeye back into our fisheries. And so it benefits all our tribal members, but the only way it got through was involving this Rights Protection Committee. And I think that that's a good venue to use because then they have a voice and they feel like they're being heard and they can give input and what not. And if you don't have that then they're going to fight you every inch of the way. I see those things really work well. There are still problems, but at least we got the vote through and we seen light at the end of the tunnel.

I always, the only thing that I regret being a chairman was that it took so much time away from my family. That's the main thing that I regretted. We all deal with that, but that's just the nature of the beast. But that's the main thing that I regret about being on tribal council was that it took so much time away from my family and my friends. But somebody's got to do it, because we've got to make sure we govern our tribes in a good way.

So now we do have some money to work with, we have our water back, we have prime land; we got 300 acres of tidelands, we got the salt water park right next to the dam, we got 500 acres of land up at Lake Cushman. These are real prime properties that were ours originally anyway, but now at least we have them back to put them back into our reservation. So I'm going to close with a joke. Don't get offended 'cause it's just a joke. How are politicians and diapers alike? They both need to be changed and for the same reason. That's what I have to offer and thank you for listening to me."

Charles E. Odegaard Award 2014: Denny Hurtado

Producer
University of Washington
Year

Denny Hurtado, former chair of the Skokomish Tribe and retired director of Indian Education for the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, is the 2014 recipient of the University of Washington Charles E. Odegaard Award. This honor is regarded as the highest achievement in diversity at the University of Washington. Hurtado is co-chair and an original member of the Native Nations Institute's International Advisory Council.

People
Native Nations
Resource Type
Topics
Citation

Macklin, Scott. "Charles E. Odegaard Award 2014: Denny Hurtado." Charles E. Odegaard Award. University of Washington. Seattle, Washington. May 22, 2014. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sD1ly_yUKe8&feature=youtu.be, accessed March 22, 2023)

Coming Back: Restoring the Skokomish Watershed

Producer
North 40 Productions
Year

Members of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team have been collaborating for a decade on how to best restore the Skokomish watershed, located at the southern end of Hood Canal, in western Washington. From federal agencies to the Skokomish Tribe to private citizens, this is the story of how these very different groups have worked to restore the river after decades of logging and development in the area.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Skokomish Watershed Action Team. "Coming Back: Restoring the Skokomish Watershed." Produced by North 40 Productions. 2014. Video. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeOcE9ENHm0, accessed March 29, 2023)