Yakama Nation asks judge to dismiss state lawsuit as 'groundless'

Posted: Friday, September 22, 2000

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) -- The Yakama Nation has asked a federal judge to dismiss a state lawsuit challenging the tribe's right to use an 1834 federal law to ban the sale of liquor to anyone -- including non-Indians -- on the 1.2 million-acre Yakama reservation in southern Washington state.

The reservation-wide ban took effect Sunday, and tribal leaders have asked the U.S. attorney's office to enforce it, based on the 166-year-old statute prohibiting intoxicants in Indian country.

The state has sued to stop the tribe. While the Yakamas may have jurisdiction over tribal members, the state argues, some 20,000 of the 25,000 people living within the boundaries of the reservation are not members of the Yakama Nation tribes.

The state's lawsuit is ''frivolous and groundless,'' Tribal Councilman Jack Fiander, a lawyer, wrote in a response filed late Wednesday in U.S. District Court here.

U.S. Attorney James Shively in Spokane said he needed to review the matter and would not consider any enforcement without first giving notice to those who might be affected. Forty-seven stores, restaurants and taverns sell alcohol on the reservation, where about 20 percent of the land is privately owned.

The Yakama Nation has not moved to enforce Yakama tribal laws or resolutions against the state or its citizens, Fiander wrote in his response on behalf of one of the defendants, Chief Judge Rory Flintknife of the Yakama Tribal Court.

''Rather, defendants have merely requested the United States government to review and enforce existing federal laws prohibiting the introduction of intoxicants within the Yakama reservation,'' Fiander wrote.

Also named as defendants in the lawsuit filed by the state Tuesday are acting Police Commissioner Jonathan Whitefoot and Tribal Chairman Lonnie Selam.

''The attorney general's office spent months attempting to obtain answers from the tribe, on a government-to-government basis, through discussions and negotiations, but this effort was always a one-way street,'' said Gary Larson, a spokesman for Attorney General Christine Gregoire.

''It is unfortunate that a lawsuit was required for us to obtain any response from tribal leaders.''

However, the state still does not believe it has the assurances necessary from the Yakama Nation that it will not attempt to enforce the ban against non-Indians and their property, particularly after reports Sunday that people in marked tribal vehicles were videotaping customers at places where alcohol was sold.

''We feel that it is still necessary for the lawsuit to go forward because we still in essence haven't heard what the tribe's official position is,'' Larson said. ''We are encouraged that one tribal official has provided an answer.''

In addition to asking that the lawsuit be dismissed, Fiander also asks the court to order the state to pay an unspecified amount in general and punitive damages for malicious prosecution.

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