North Kitsap School District board member doesn’t see a ‘sovereign nation’ in Suquamish

An anonymous caller left me a message expressing his displeasure with a North Kitsap School District board member’s comments on Nov. 8 regarding the “culturally relevant” language in one part and the “sovereign immunity” clause in the contract between the district, Olympic College and the Suquamish Tribe.

The contract deals with the Suquamish Tribe’s Early College for Native Youth program, college-level cultural curriculum for high school kids. Patty Page, North Kitsap superintendent, told the board the program has been in place for years.

Within the contract is a subsection titled, “No waiver of sovereign immunity.” It reads:

The parties acknowledge that the Suquamish Tribe is a sovereign nation. Nothing in this Agreement shall constitute or shall be construed as a waiver of the Tribe’s sovereign immunity.

You can see the Nov. 8 conversation about the program on video on the school district’s site. The contract conversation begins at 57:42. Henden starts his questions at 63:45.

Bill Webb was the first board member to express concern with the contract. He said he wouldn’t vote against it, but wanted an easier escape clause in future contracts if something happened the district didn’t like. The contract then proposed would only allow escape if all parties agreed. Webb wanted a 30-day notice clause. The contract board members will see Thursday allows for any of the three parties to exit with 90 days notice.

Henden then went deeper into his “sovereign nation” dispute at 69:20:

“I understand that they’re federally recognized. I understand, 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. I have a problem understanding any kind of English where those words go together and 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 are 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 putting those two words together means what we have, I’d be glad to see it.”

As it was, Henden said, he could not agree to the contract stipulating that the Tribe was a sovereign nation. “I’m not going to willingly do that,” he said. He also took issue with the part of the contract saying it was negotiated on tribal land. Webb agreed. That part of the contract has been removed.

Page reiterated that the federal government recognizes the tribe as a sovereign nation. Henden said he still couldn’t put together those two words, “sovereign” and “nation.” He dismissed the clause as “politics.”

Ken Ames moved to table the motion. Page said it would be better to oppose it, then give her directions to fix the problems. The board unanimously voted against the contract.

Dan Weedin, board president, said he didn’t think the “sovereign immunity” inclusion should be a deal breaker. Webb said he’d at least like to know why the clause was in the contract. Ames said he supported Henden’s question, or, like Webb, at least wanted an answer as to why it needed to be in the contract.

Henden then said the statement is not true, that it would be against his morals to agree to something he thought wasn’t true.

While Henden’s questions, as he stated them, are offensive to many, perhaps rightly so, the sovereign immunity question has been tough to answer for the U.S. Supreme Court and at least one president.

In one of the final exchanges on the topic Weedin points out what Page did, that the federal government is the entity defining “sovereign nation” as it relates to the tribes. Henden gave that no credibility, offering federal deficits as his example of a federal lack of judgment.

Specifically, it’s the federal courts that provide the legal definitions. In the American Bar piece referenced above, it cites two different meanings that have influenced the courts over the years.

“There are two competing theories of tribal sovereignty: first, the tribes have inherent powers of sovereignty that predate the “discovery” of America by Columbus; and second, the tribes have only those attributes of sovereignty that Congress gives them.

“Over the years, the Court has relied on one or the other of these theories in deciding tribal sovereignty cases. It is important to note that whichever theory the Court has favored in a given case has determined to a large extent what powers the tribes have and what protections they receive against federal and state government encroachment.”

The piece takes the stand that it is troubling how much sovereignty has been taken from the tribes and makes clear how the notion works on the reservations. Tribes, according to the article, are sovereign by the grace of Congress. The courts give the federal government the power to protect tribes from state intrusion, but also the power to define just how sovereign the tribes are. The article points to Supreme Court cases defining whether tribes can prosecute certain crimes and how they can enforce laws against non-tribal members living on tribal land.

Since Henden wanted someone to find a dictionary that offers a definition expressing what exists, there is this from something online called both the “legal dictionary” and the “free dictionary.”

“Tribal sovereignty refers to the fact that each tribe has the inherent right to govern itself.”

What else governs itself? I do. I’m sovereign in the sense that I can eat a peanut M&M and Josh Farley can’t stop me. But if I tried to get a Big Gulp in New York City, the city says I can’t. Am I any less sovereign because of it? Well, yes, I am. Washington is sovereign and can demand that insurers pay for pregnancy coverage and Arizona or Texas can’t do a thing about it. The federal government can, but does that mean Washington isn’t, at least to some degree, sovereign?

That seems to be the answer. Being sovereign, or free, doesn’t mean I can do whatever I want. The courts more or less acknowledge that national sovereignty for the tribes is not like national sovereignty for Canada. Try as we might, our Supreme Court can’t force Canadians to say “about” correctly or the British to stop putting the letter “u” in words like “color,” but it can tell the tribes they can’t put non-tribal members on trial.

Even nations are bound by international law. Granted, it’s at a nation’s consent to be so obligated. But the United States acknowledges “international law,” and saying the U.S. isn’t sovereign will get you a punch in the snot locker in some parts.

George W. Bush acknowledged international law when he attempted to justify to the United Nations his intent to launch the war in Iraq. “For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack,” Bush said. So the United States, a sovereign nation, said it was within its rights under international law, an unspoken admission that it is bound by it.

Finally, let’s look inside the big red Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary on my desk and look up “sovereign,” “sovereignty” and “nation.” There are definitions for the first two that include lack of interference from any outside source, but when you get to definitions like “enjoying autonomy,” it doesn’t take much to understand that autonomy is not necessarily absolute. The word “nation” includes the definition “a tribe or federation of tribes (as of American Indians).” Norway would not fit that definition, but it is still a nation.

We’ll see Thursday if that satisfies Henden. Even if it doesn’t, it will probably satisfy the rest of the board.

13 thoughts on “North Kitsap School District board member doesn’t see a ‘sovereign nation’ in Suquamish

  1. “Henden then said the statement is not true, that it would be against his morals to agree to something he thought wasn’t true.”

    Hip, hip, hooray for Mr. Henden. I appreciate that he is willing to stand up for his morals in the public arena. Praise to the man !!!

  2. This has opened up a lot of wounds , and considering this was uneventful till the NK editor did a hit piece on Henden was not even an issue . Years ago when I on the Board of the Ethnic Unity Coalition we did a forum on the Native American Community , held it in Suquamish . The EUC organization was a model for the community in my opinion , for we set up forums on youth , Native Americans , African Americans , and such who then were asked to participate in the level of explaining their issues from a community they were in from their own understanding . It promoted good will and understanding . Sovereignty had a part in the forum , and legal representatives from the Tribe gave a good understanding of what it meant . It is different then the average person’s understanding of the word . Tribal members in effect have dual citizenship , but even after the presentation many questions were asked .Tribal and non tribal members learned some things .

    This story is being made to be a us against them story . Shameful on the part of the NK Editor , and since he has gotten control of NK Herald has allowed his political ideology more then once tilt the subject and story. Scott was never asked his concerns in the papers hit piece . When dealing with kids with disabilities , tribal kids , and others who have a unique standing in education with dollars and curriculum made available understanding is needed.

    A school board asking questions is a good thing . Native Americans have been a blessing to this nation , have defended it in wars and civic participation . Their tribal concerns have not always been seen as the best over all approach in regards to how other government entities have seen it , as political parties , or any groups whose main interest is on a favored group of people . Participation is the key , and making sure the law is obeyed is essential .

  3. “Henden then said the statement is not true, that it would be against his morals to agree to something he thought wasn’t true.”


    “While Henden’s questions, as he stated them, are offensive to many”….

    Let’s just stop here. Where does his morality code justify going against a request of the tribe. He has a morality code? Where was he when state and local officials (mayors, LE deputies, etc) where out driving drunk. Did he equally condemn them?

    The Tribe should initiate recall efforts to remove him and the Board should censure him for the offensive remarks. He lacks any ability to look at anything impartially.

    He’s blatantly unfit to serve and should resign immediately.

  4. The opinion of school board members does nothing to alter the reality of the relationship between the tribal government and federal, state, or local governments. Whether the boilerplate clause is in the contract or not is largely immaterial.

  5. It seems like and smells like some racial prejudice with an shallow effort to disguise it as constitutionalism. I thought KAPO were the Pro’s at this! Is Mr. Henden still a member of KAPO. Tiring to continue to hear these irrelevant arguments about constitutional rights of white folks be challenged by the tribes. It’s a real shame that the county De-funded our Human Rights Council. This is a very ripe issue for them to take up. Certainly the tribes are as offended as many of us are reading this news.

  6. Reality: Mr. Henden by self admission is a racist and also anti-tribe. I would like to know why the school board receives and requests additional funds that are linked to the same Sovreignity if they have such hard feelings about the Suquamish Tribe? All this academy is providing is a quality education to children, who for what ever reason do not receive the equal opportunities to receive the same education as others within the North Kitsap School District. I know this for a fact as I was one those children who did not receive an equal education and have stuggled as an adult to continue my education. It is ridiculous that an ignorant bigot such as Henden can get voted into office in this county and never fail everytime Suquamish is mentioned in this paper the comments pile up and we are always painted as the villian when all we are trying to do is survive and thrive within this community.

  7. Pat I agree with you , I am atonished some of the comments made here with little obvious understanding of the issue at hand . Plus no wonder we find less and less people willing to volunteer in our public schools .

    Washington State through the OSPI makes available currullicum that actually teaches about our Tribes Soverignity . I have read where ” limited sovereignity”.is actually a better term in the context here .
    The issue as i saw it was concern of the term usedin a signed document between parties by a couple of new board members and what that meant in about if they do not know . If your accountable for districts decisions why would you not be concerned ?

    For a little more information besides the typical gotcha from certain news outlets this may help others who come upon this , it is written from the Tribes point of view , I findit quite informative and accurate . Of course the School District may have a lightly different slant , but In NK I had thought there was a good working relationship .

    ‘pull quote”
    But what about jurisdiction? Who has legal authority over tribal students and the public schools that are on reservations or in other Indian country? Do Tribes, because the students are tribal members and the schools are on-reservation? Or do States, because school districts are their political entities whose location on-reservation has been sanctioned by federal law? Or, at least in some instances, perhaps where public school students are both tribal and non-Indian, do Tribes and States have concurrent authority

  8. Right and your political bias already shown in Henden’s views such as KAPO surely demonstrates where prejudice starts here and ends .

    As far as anyone knows the rest is mis understanding . I can disagree with Henden based on law , totally understand the need for clarity when working with other groups on the same project .

  9. Mick.

    I’ve paid my dues to KAPO, I get my monthly newsletter just like you! So forget that political theory, it’s baloney! I attribute this lack of thought by Scott as a combination of poor soft skills and over enthusiastic ‘personal’ holdings regarding constitutionalism. Many KAPO folks believe and follow the same line of thinking, but not all. Plenty of good folks in this group. Scott just blurts out this stuff without considering the fallout. I do think he dislikes Native Americans, it’s “leaked out” in other dialogues with him. Hope the board straightens this out. Some training on sensitivity might be in order here. Also it looks like this string has been abandoned.

  10. Actually i do not get a monthy newsletter and I am not a member of KAPO . About 8 years ago I went to one of their forums where they had a speaker whose lecture I thought would be interesting .

    I support property rights , and I belive the importance to it in our basic freedoms . I support the second amendment , I just do not have a desire to own a gun either . So I have no clue why you felt you needed to assume that I belonged to a property rights organization . seems like you have proven here your the one who spits out stuff also without regarding the fall out .

    So obviously your prejudice here about sizing me up is off as well . No desire to be a KAPO member . I have worked with tribal issues , supporting them . Have even mentored a Native American young person through a Christian organization I belong to . Happen to know people who have minitries dedicated to Native Americans . I have a son who most likely has more Native blood in him then a majority of Tribal members . I would agree politically Scott may have a strong disagreement with tribal views , but excuse me if I was wrong , i thought you were speaken to racial prejudice .

    I hope your wrong about any prejuedice , but I defintely could not tell from the dialogue on the video . People who don’t know him claim he is a racist and such already . Just from the video .

    I believe many people need sensitivity in how we handle disagreements .

  11. Mick,
    In reading what you have written other times I made a wrong assumption about KAPO, pardon me if that offended you. Nothing wrong with liberals or conservatives, I just don’t think this behavior he exemplifies in pubic office should be encouraged. Call me whatever you want in private life but shame on anyone who thinks public life provides you the the same luxuries. His agenda is wrapped all together with his politics so I don’t think you can separate them on this. Thank you for your honest and sincere felt retort! That’s refreshing.

  12. Thanks X G , perhaps the use of words like racists and such threw me .Knowing Gardner and his anti republican slant put me on the defense mode from the beginning . Blogging I think is detrimental , most of the comments on the Herald when covering this were claims of racists also , all from people normally supporting far left political idealogies also . I was called racist yesterday for not supporting some aspects of Obama Care , I guessI get a little defensive here . I would think less arogant and selective reporting of who the media chooses to cover in their gotcha moments would help .

    I emailed Scott and no answer, I will see him at the next GOP meeting I go to , I started going to thenm again recently and he serves on that Board .

    But for all who are really concerned the tribes put that soverignity aspect to the working document among the various interests because of their concern . I have no problems with them doing that , but asking for a clear definition for it is important in regards to what they are trying to accomplish together . Actually I thought the other party involved were given clear independence also and no soverignity was mentioned . Gardner in putting his defintion sure makes things worse in my opinion , same tact the far left editor of the Herald tried to do with me .

    The Tribes provide curricullum for this issue , its that complicated legally . Also I suggest the United States could perhaps differ on some of the meanings that ther tribes take .Thats not racist , that is normal .

    Hope your wrong about Scott , The Tribes are plus to this country , they are a equal to any citizen , and honoring Tribal Soverignity laid out in treaties supports my morality , when you give your word you honor it . Even when it turns out not in your specfic best interest afterwards at times .

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