MISSION — Sally Kosey is blunt in her assessment of the members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Board of Trustees who voted her off the tribes’ governing body.
“They’re haters,” she said Friday. “That’s what they are.”
Kosey doesn’t think the board has the legal standing to force her exit, and she’s suing them in Umatilla Tribal Court to restore her place on the board.
The board maintains that it never removed Kosey because she never should have been eligible to hold the seat in the first place.
The conflict revolves around Kosey’s residency, which she said has been an issue during the entire 20 months of her tenure on the Board of Trustees.
Kosey lives inside Pendleton city limits, and whether she’s allowed to serve on the Board of Trustees is a question that stretches back more than a century.
Kosey’s history with the board is much more recent.
It started when she was elected to a two-year term in November 2017, getting enough votes to secure one of four at-large seats in a 13-candidate field.
As the debate over her residency continued well into 2019, Kosey said a board member told her the rest of the trustees wanted to resolve the issue by bringing the issue to tribal court.
But Kosey said the discussion spun out of control when it got to the board at an Aug. 5 meeting, and when she realized what was happening, she left.
On Aug. 7, the CTUIR announced that the Board of Trustees had voted to declare Kosey’s seat vacant, citing an article in the tribal constitution that states no nonresident of the Umatilla Indian Reservation may serve on the board.
According to the Confederated Umatilla Journal, the board voted later that month to change the election code to state that only candidates in the “current” or “diminished” boundary could be elected to the board.
The Board of Trustees is voted in by members of the General Council, which consists of all tribal members aged 18 or over. In addition to voting for trustees, the General Council also votes in its own set of officers.
After the board changed the election code, CUJ editor Wil Phinney wrote that tribal members gathered to hold “the largest General Council meeting in recent memory,” where members voted 116-0, with four abstentions, to reinstate Kosey.
But Kosey still hasn’t rejoined the board, so she hired attorney Anthony Broadman to represent her and filed a lawsuit in tribal court.
Broadman is a partner at Galanda Broadman, a self-described “Indian Country law firm” that has offices in Seattle, Bend, Yakima, and Tucson, Arizona.
Broadman said he’s dealt with intra-tribal disputes before; like any other governing body, political conflicts are commonplace.
But he added that he’s never encountered a case where a set of tribal leaders tried to diminish their own boundaries.
“As a tribal lawyer, it’s frankly shocking to me that anybody would agree to a smaller amount of tribal land when the treaty, something tribal people fought really hard for, to give that away, it’s pretty gross,” he said.
The debate over the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s boundaries date back to the mid-19th century, when the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse tribes signed the Treaty of 1855 with the federal government.
According to a history of the tribes on the CTUIR website, the treaty described a reservation that extended more than 500,000 acres, but when the U.S. government surveyed the land it was diminished to less than half that.
Under pressure from white settlers looking for more farming and grazing land, the reservation was shrunk further in the late 1800s through congressional legislation.
Kosey is arguing that her east Pendleton is home is within the boundaries of the Treaty of 1855, when the reservation was much larger, and therefore qualified to serve in tribal government.
Kosey and Broadman are also questioning the board’s authority to remove Kosey, pointing to language in the tribal constitution that states only the General Council can remove a sitting board member.
CTUIR spokesman Chuck Sams referred questions about the lawsuit to Executive Director Ted Wright.
Wright said that in the board’s view, it never removed Kosey, it only declared the seat vacant due to Kosey’s ineligibility to hold the seat.
As for the questions of Kosey’s residency, Wright said that’s for the tribal court to decide.
“Ms. Kosey’s position is different from the Board of Trustees’ position,” he said. “There’s logical issues and there’s legal issues.”
Broadman said the first hearing will be held in tribal court on Tuesday, when the judge will decide whether to grant a restraining order that would restore Kosey’s place on the board while the larger issue of residency and authority is adjudicated.
Even if Kosey is put back on the board, she won’t have long before her term expires: All Board of Trustees seats are up for election every two years and the next round of elections is set for Nov. 12.
Kosey has filed to run for another term on the Board of Trustees, but instead of seeking an at-large seat, she has her sights set on the secretary position.
With current Secretary Kat Brigham running against Chairman Gary Burke, Kosey will compete for the seat against fellow at-large member Aaron Ashley, who was one of the board members who voted to vacate her seat.