By Richard Walker
The agreement is between the Tribe, which operates the school; the school district, which shares students and resources with the academy; and Olympic College, which awards credit for classes taken.
Henden expressed concern about language in the agreement referring to Suquamish as a “sovereign nation.” He also expressed concern about a reference to Suquamish’s “sovereign immunity,” which relates to a tribal government’s immunity against many lawsuits unless immunity is waived by the Tribe or Congress abrogates it.
Henden first asked for a definition of sovereignty. “I know that’s something important to them. I’d like to know what that means in more detail … I’m not sure I understand the words they’re using. When they talk about sovereignty, what do they mean there? I really want to know, and what are we teaching our kids?” After some discussion, he stated, “I need to do some reading of my own. I guess I want to understand the issue better.” But then he went on to detail his views of sovereignty.
“I understand they are federally recognized. I understand the, at least in part, the issue of Native abuse over the years. I won’t say I understand it totally by any means, but at least in part I understand some of their issues,” Henden said. “I have a problem understanding [in] any kind of English where those words go together and it means what we have. I don’t see them as a sovereign nation. Norway is a sovereign nation. And I don’t see why we need to agree to that so that we can have a contract with them.
“If they are a sovereign nation, they’re self-sufficient, they’re self-funded, they’re self-protected and there are some things that go with it, at least in my mind. If somebody can give me something other than that in the dictionary that shows that putting those two words together means what we have, I’d be glad to see it.
“They’re federally recognized, they have some immunity to govern themselves and those kind of things, I agree with that, but I can’t agree that they’re a sovereign nation. I’m not willing to do that.” He added, “If we want to say, ‘We recognize you’re [a] federally registered tribe,’ or something like that, I don’t have a problem. But I wouldn’t approve this contract with that language in there the way it reads.”
Superintendent Patty Page advised Henden, “They are recognized as a sovereign nation,” to which Henden replied, “I cannot put those two words together by any kind of reasonable definition and say this fits. I mean, it doesn’t work for me. So, if a part of this thing is we have to include that, can we just include anything we want about their abilities or past? This isn’t part of this agreement. This is politics. Let’s leave the politics out of it. If we want to provide a program for Native kids to learn, that’s great. I’m totally in favor of that. I’m not in the politics side.”
Henden responded, “Here’s why it’s important to me. They have these things where they’ll put one student in a classroom, and they’ll change some data and one student will not know that everybody else has agreed to agree to something that is not true. And in my mind, this statement is not true. And it would be against my morals to say something is true and agree to it in a contract, and know very well it’s not, for me.”
Weedin defended Suquamish’s sovereignty, saying, “It is true, based on what the federal government has said. The federal government has acknowledged that the Suquamish Tribe is a sovereign nation. If you want to disagree with what their definition is, that’s fine, but the federal government has stated this, so I guess I’m thinking it’s true.”
Henden: “The federal government spends 16 billion dollars—trillion dollars—that they don’t have, so—.”
Weedin: “That has nothing to do with them defining something. You can go off on a whole lot of tangents on the government, but what they’ve done is they’ve defined it and said it’s a sovereign nation, so whether they spend money that they don’t have has nothing to do with this.”
Henden: “It might have something to do with their judgment.”
Weedin: “We’re not making judgments on their judgment. We’re talking about what is law.”
For more on tribal sovereignty, see GOP Activist: "Sovereignty Is Bunk" and Americans Support Tribal Sovereignty.
Below: I suspect this is part of why Henden opposes tribal sovereignty: because it means acknowledging that America was built on stolen Indian land.