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Douglas Indian Association Responds to Lawsuit's Dismissal


January 21, 2016
Thursday PM

(SitNews) Juneau, Alaska - The Juneau-based Douglas Indian Association (DIA) responded to the dismissal of its lawsuit against Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Central Council). The lawsuit was dismissed on January 13, 2016 by the State of Alaska’s Superior Court. Judge Louis Menendez affirmed Central Council has sovereign immunity from suit, and dismissed all of Douglas Indian Association’s arguments to the contrary, including claims against Central Council President Richard Peterson and Tribal Transportation Manager William Ware.

The Douglas Indian Association said their Council was fully cognizant of the fact that CCTHITA would claim Sovereign Immunity as its defense. However, the real question the DIA said they chose to court to address was the contractual one, and the DIA hoped the court would recognize the harm done to to them and step in to mediate.

Butch Laiti, Tribal Council President said during a DIA Tribal Council meeting on January 18, 2016, “I am appalled and disgusted. They took our money, and are hiding behind Sovereign Immunity. They are trying to blame us for the situation.”

Paul Marks, Tribal Council Member said during the meeting, “It is obvious they [CCTHITA] used Sovereign Immunity to hide behind because there is something they do not want discovered.”

Douglas Indian Association Tribal Council Treasurer, Barbara Cadiente-Nelson said the DIA was disappointed but not surprised in the court’s ruling.

According to an email to SitNews from Andrea Cadiente-Laiti, Tribal Administrator of Douglas Indian Association, "CCTHITA could not even wait for the final judgement to be passed in this case before announcing their win. President Peterson celebrates the fact that Sovereign Immunity was upheld to the benefit of Alaska’s tribes. The test was not meant to be Sovereign Immunity, but the requirement of all citizens to abide by contract law. What President Peterson seems to not understand is that it was a tribe (DIA) who was on the other end of this case, and that invoking Sovereign Immunity means that CCTHITA does not have to abide by any contracts or agreements made with tribes even in a trust relationship with them."

Cadiente-Laiti wrote, "The DIA Council hopes that having brought this issue to public court will make other tribes in a trust relationship with CCTHITA aware of their motives. In fact, this win should send a message to any entity (federal, state, and local governments included), that CCTHITA does not have to abide by any agreements made with them, because they can invoke Sovereign Immunity to break any agreements, and walk away with all the marbles (in DIA’s case – nearly $1 million)."

Cadiente-Nelson said, “Sovereignty as an argument was a hurdle. DIA Council knew CCTHITA would claim “sovereignty immunity” rather than refute the charges. DIA upholds the facts and have confidence these would prevail if a court would hear the facts that CCTHITA willfully broke covenants of its memorandum of agreement it tenured with DIA."

Cadiente-Nelson said, “The “test in court” is not sovereignty. Legally, the test is if the sovereign state of Alaska will acknowledge CCTHITA’s contractual agreement with DIA as legal and binding.” “The true test and shame is that CCTHITA failed to honor its words and agreements and covena

“Tribal sovereignty is founded upon time immemorial occupancy, paid for by the loss of land, life and labor. DIA holds the law of this land in the highest regard; a contractual agreement is a civil matter which keeps the peace among sovereign entities – tribal and otherwise,” said Cadiente-Nelson.

The Douglas Indian Association is the historical federally recognized Tribe of the Juneau/Douglas area. DIA has a Tribal Governing body comprised of nine (9) elected officials. The Tribe’s Base Roll members originate from the T'aaku Kwáan and A'akw Kwáan clans which have inhabited the Anax Yaa Andagan Yé (Douglas) and Dzantik'i Héeni (Juneau) region since time immemorial, and they say they are the only tribe with traditional and historic land within the Juneau Borough.

For more than three years, the Douglas Indian Association said they made multiple efforts to seek cooperation and transparency regarding close to $1 million in federal Tribal Transportation allocations received by Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA) on DIA’s behalf for transportation projects to benefit DIA’s Tribal members.

According to the Douglas Indian Association, the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska developed a tribal transportation consortium, and invited regional tribes to join with" lofty promises".

On August 11, 2006, the Douglas Indian Association said they entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska based on the following covenants that were authored by CCTHITA which the DIA said included:

  • CCTHITA will accept in trust Tribal Transportation program funds for DIA to be used for transportation projects for the benefit of DIA tribal members. These funds will be held in a separate interest-bearing account.
  • None of DIA’s funds will be spent without prior approval by the DIA Tribal Council.
  • CCTHITA will use their own funds for core financial, accounting, program management, compliance, and planning services.
  • CCTHITA will only charge member tribes’ transportation funds for “project-specific” financial, accounting, program management, compliance, and planning services.
  • CCTHITA will track individual tribal transportation funds, and provide the member tribes with routine financial and project reports.
    Instead of following these covenants, CCTHITA took in trust nearly $1 million of DIA tribal transportation funds and:
  • Did not provide any transportation planning services to DIA, despite repeated requests from the DIA Tribal Council for help in prioritizing projects.
  • Did not develop a single transportation project to benefit DIA Tribal members.
  • Did not provide any information or reports on receipt or expenditure of DIA’s funds.
  • Did not come to the DIA Tribal Council to ask permission to spend DIA’s tribal transportation funds.

Douglas Indian Association said the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska did, however, put about 80% of Juneau’s roads and trails into their own transportation inventory, helping fund their over $700,000 per year transportation program, even though these roads and trails are on DIA’s traditional territory, and not CCTHITA’s said the DIA. The Douglas Indian Association asserts that CCTHITA spent nearly $1 million of DIA’s Tribal transportation funds for their own purposes, and DIA’s nearly 700 Tribal members did not receive one cent in benefit.

When violations according to the DIA of these covenants promised by CCTHITA began to occur, the DIA decided it was necessary to contract directly with the Federal Highway Administration and to seek the return of the total amount of tribal transportation funds that were reported by CCHITA to be still “unspent.” DIA's said the CCTHITA’s so called offers to resolve the dispute with them on “generous” terms were (in fact) offers to pay miniscule percentages of what CCHITA continues to owe to DIA. To date, the Douglas Indian Association says CCTHITA still refuses to identify where or on what projects DIA’s transportation funds were spent. The last offer received by DIA from CCTHITA was approximately $150,000 although DIA’s total allocation plus interest is over $1 million according to the Douglas Indian Association.

Between 2012 and January 2016, DIA said they sought assistance in, and resolution to this matter from federal Tribal Transportation officials, and Alaska’s Congressional delegation, with no success. After DIA’s numerous and patient attempts to achieve meaningful dialogue with CCTHITA were also unsuccessful, the DIA said only then did they with very careful deliberation, feel there was no other recourse but to file a lawsuit.

Andrea Cadiente-Laiti, Tribal Administrator of Douglas Indian Association said these are some questions DIA poses:

  • If this case has no merit, why would DIA, a tribe with few resources, choose to risk those resources?
  • If this case had no merit, why hide behind Sovereign Immunity to keep from informing DIA how their funds were spent? What is CCTHITA hiding?
  • Why did CCTHITA return Tribal Transportation funds to other tribes who dropped out of their Transportation consortium (Hoonah, Wrangell, Yakutat, and even Richard Peterson’s own Kasaan), yet refuse to return DIA’s funds to them?
  • Why does CCTHITA offer only manufactured, after-the-fact expense reports that clearly violate the covenants of the MOA as the only justification for keeping DIA’s funds?
  • Where is the proof that these funds were spent appropriately, and why hide behind Sovereign Immunity to keep from giving that information to DIA?



Related News:

Douglas Indian Association Lawsuit Against Tribe Dismissed - The Juneau-based Douglas Indian Association’s lawsuit against Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Central Council) was dismissed on January 13, 2016 by the State of Alaska’s Superior Court. - More...
Monday PM - January 18, 2016


Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


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