The letter and spirit of tribal self-governance, self-determination, and self-sufficiency are synonymous and easy to understand: Tribes and tribal people assume the responsibility for the management of all tribal affairs. In the context of tribal government, filling employment positions with qualified tribal members is probably the most visible demonstration of tribal self-determination. Our Umatilla tribal government has duly adopted employment policies and procedures that implements tribal self-determination and self-sufficiency.
It is the role and responsibility of the tribal administration to comply with these policies. With much fanfare, Chuck Sams was recently appointed by the Board of Trustees to the position of interim executive director, the top administrative position in our tribal government.
One of Sams’ first actions as interim executive director was to make a non-Indian employee (Jane Hill) the publisher of the Confederated Umatilla Journal, our tribal newspaper. Thus, non-Indians now have complete control of one of our important tribal institutions as the long-time editor of the CUJ is also non-Indian. This clearly contradicts and undermines our tribal self-governance and self-determination goals and policies.
Our tribal hiring preference policy states that qualified Umatilla tribal members shall be hired, and promoted, before non-members. The courts have consistently ruled that such policies are not based on race, but are based on political affiliation, i.e., enrolled members of a federally recognized tribe. Therefore, such policies are not racially discriminatory.
The BOT, as a whole, are the supervisors of Sams and it is their responsibility to hold him accountable for compliance with applicable policies, including tribal preference policies. The BOT must also ensure that Sams supports our tribal goals of self-determination. However, by their silent consent in this situation, the BOT is giving the green light for Sams to ignore applicable tribal policies, and our self-determination goals as well. I see this situation as setting a precedent for future similar actions by our new interim executive director.