Tribal members' march on tribal council
June 10, 2008 · Updated 5:34 PM
"SUQUAMISH - Frustrated with the current state of tribal nation leadership, 30 people took to the streets for a March for Justice rally Monday evening at the slab downtown. Upset tribal members carried signs with painted slogans such as 7 Up, 7 Down and called for the Suquamish Tribal Council to listen to their concerns. They asked them to listen, or leave office. Members of the community called for council members to resign during their regular closed meeting on Monday evening. Two seats on the seven-member council are up for election in March and some tribal members would like to see new people leading the tribe. In the meantime, the 30 who gathered downtown would like to see a new type of leadership from their current government officials. They turn a deaf ear a lot of times to what we want to do, said Dick Demain, Suquamish tribal elder. These are people meetings, not just tribal council meetings, he said. The council has conducted too much of its business in executive session or been unresponsive to the people it represents, according to Demain. A three-page flier was also distributed at the grassroots march. It asked questions about individuals and the casino that had been circulated through the community by word of mouth. Some of the questions in the flier involve the council's behavior at meetings and why it has chosen to fund some programs, but not support others. Barbara Lawrence, higher education coordinator for the Suquamish Tribal Center, said she was verbally assaulted when she spoke to the council during one of its meetings. She feels she will lose her job because she spoke out at the meeting. I am prepared for that, she said But this is my place, not just as an employee. They cannot get rid of me. Lawrence and the other people who gathered on the waterfront voiced their concerns to Bennie Armstrong, Suquamish tribal council chairman. He attended the meeting not so much to defend the council, but to defend his wife against allegations made against her personally in the flier. Armstrong called the allegations an outright attack that had his wife in tears. As for the allegations against the council, he said all I can do is do my best. He continued, There's no Bennie agenda. I'm a common man. If I have failings and make mistakes, I am a human being. The group, with signs and concerns in tow, climbed the hill to the cemetery to pray for Chief Seattle's guidance and forgiveness. We want to apologize to the spirits here. We never let them rest. Maybe one day we'll be able to do that, said Aggie Pratt, organizer of the march. She asked for the words said at the rally to have power and that generations of hurt be healed. Marilyn Wandery, chief elder of the tribe, said this was the first time in a long time that she has seen her people come together. The elders have been talking about some of these issues and then this came along, she said. When asked if she felt their voice was being heard she said definitely. Pratt said the March for Justice was the first step on a road to working together with a responsive council. Four marches have been held in the past five years to address community concerns, the most recent one addressed crime issues. Pratt said in the past they have been successful in getting issues settled. Bennie came here. Bennie was willing to face us and answer questions, Pratt said. We're not done. This is the fourth march, we are ready for number 5, 6, 7...hundredth march if we have to. "