|Council ponders holding per capita checks|
Published in the Oct. 3, 2007 issue of The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle By Chris Thew
A small group of protesters picketed the Colville Confederated Tribes' headquarters in Nespelem Sept. 27 in hopes of receiving an expected December per capita check.
The protest was made up of a group of students from the Northwest Indian College Club, which organized the event, and several other supporters.
Several of the protestors said they, like most tribal members, use the money to pay for Christmas celebrations and higher heating costs during the winter.
Lucille Luevano, who created the Northwest Indian College Club, said the group heard a rumor about the payments being held back and then heard that the Colville Business Council planned to meet Sept. 27 to decide whether tribal members would receive the payment.
Traditionally, the tribe distributes to all members a quarterly per capita payment.
The council discussed the issue, but did not vote on it at the Sept. 27 meeting.
Business council chairman Michael Marchand, also from the Omak District, said there has been a lot of concern about the tribe's budget and the per capita payments. He said he believes the tribe's budget shortfall is due to the timber market being down.
"It generally follows the national housing markets," said Marchand. "No houses, no one wants to buy lumber."
The tribe has two sources of funds for per capita payments - 181-D monies derived from the Grand Coulee Dam settlement and other revenues from leases, timber and business profits, according to Marchand.
"This goes into the general fund of the tribe and decisions are made each year on how this is spent," said Marchand.
Tribal governments operate budgets and pay per capitas out of the fund, which allows the government to operate without charging income or property taxes, according to Marchand.
"Revenues are down drastically this year, primarily due to the housing recession, but there are other problems, too," said Marchand. "The tribe is assessing its budgets right now and there will likely be cuts made to both the government operating budgets and to per capita payments."
Marchand said the Grand Coulee Dam payment "will be distributed for sure, but the other payments will be the subject of debate."
He said the business council will decide the budget soon, but he expects that how the budget will be prioritized will be a major issue at an upcoming general membership meeting Oct. 6 in Inchelium.
Bessette said he is considering a suggestion to the council of planned layoffs across the board for three to four months "so we could salvage the budget for the most part."
He said he is still investigating that possibility.
"Those revenues come from our timbers," said Luevano. "We've always had a December per capita."
Luevano suggested that the council should cut wages instead of cutting the per capita payment.
Robert Parisien, Northwest Indian College Club president, said the group focuses on community and world issues. He said members had planned a trip, but felt that the loss of the per capita payment would harm tribal members, so the group decided to get involved.
Parisien said he understands the Colville Tribal Enterprise Corp. and Colville Business Council got their cuts of tribal money.
"We don't think that's fair," said Parisien. "Are these businesses for us or are they just for them?"
Parisien questioned why the council would need to hold back the money and why it can't pay the bills.
"They've made mistakes. Why should the people pay for them?" asked Parisien.
Parisien credited the Northwest Indian College with getting him and other students involved and vocal in the Nes-pelem community.
"We want to help our community," said Parisien. "We want to be pillars of our community."
If the council chooses to withhold per capita payments, Parisien says the protesters will be back for another peaceful protest.
"It is on, if that's the way it goes," said Parisien, who said he believes that if CTEC can't make money outside of casinos, it should rethink its plans for logging and milling operations.
"You can't just keep going to the well," said Parisien. "It's going to run out."
Parisien said the club in
Nespelem will continue to work peacefully to bring good changes and help the community and believes that the club's members will have an influence.
"Everybody - 100 percent - wants to correct this community," said Parisien. "We want a fair shake."
Business council member Ted Bessette, who represents the Omak District, said the council is dealing with a budget crunch that has been building over several years.
He said the tribe has a $10 million to $12 million shortfall that needs to be corrected, but he doesn't believe that tribal members should be the ones to take the hit.
"It kind of caught up to us," said Bessette. "Just not having a good handle on what was going in and coming out."
He said that not dealing with financial problems led to deficit spending for the last several years.
"We've been running in the red for several years and it's finally caught up," said Bessette.
Bessette said he supports the demonstrators taking a stand against the loss of the per capita payment.
"The people have that right," he said. "We're their representatives and the tribal organization is there to meet their needs. And if we're not, we need to reassess our needs. It's costing a lot of money to support the tribal bureaucracy."
Bessette said one change he would like to see is allowing tribal members to look at where the money is coming and going, instead of only a prepared financial statement.
"They have a right to know what's going on with the budget," said Bessette.
He said he has been telling tribal officials about his concerns about the budget for years, but no one would listen. Now, he just wishes his concerns didn't come true, he said.
Bessette, who previously served on the council from 1999 to 2001, was elected to represent the Omak District in 2006.
"I've been telling the tribe this for the last five to six years at least that we're digging a financial hole," said Bessette. "There were nay-sayers on the council that were saying I was just trying to scare people. Now we find out it wasn't necessarily so."
Bessette said the issue has not been decided and that the council approved a budget through October, but he doesn't know if enough business council members will vote to keep the per capita payment.
The tribe's fiscal year runs for the same period as the federal fiscal year, Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
"At this point everything's on the table due to the severity of the budget deficit, but we shouldn't make the people pay for the tribes' financial mistakes, said Bessette. "I say 'I told you so,' but we shouldn't make the people pay for the tribe's and corporation's shortcomings."
Bessette suggests that tribal members contact their tribal representatives about the issue.
"The people need to get in touch with their representatives to make their sentiments known," said Bessette. "I've been warning about this for several years. Now it looks like the wolf's at the door."
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