DARRINGTON, Wash. - One hundred and fifty years ago, the Sauk Suiattle tribe lost their land, their livelihood. But today they stand to lose much more, their legacy, because of a lawsuit that effectively calls the tribe racist.
It just felt like enough is enough, said Judy Pendergrass, who is among eight people now suing the tribe. All of them held jobs with Sauk Suiattle.
And all of them were fired, they say, because they are white.
There had been talk for some time that certain members of the tribe wanted to remove the white people, said Pendergrass.
The tribe argues its sovereign status allows them to hire and fire whoever they want. But the suit alleges discrimination outright - a violation of federal law, even the tribe's own constitution.
Sauk Suiattle is a small tribe, about 200 members. But this lawsuit challenges tribal sovereignty, in just how far it can go. And even some tribal members, like John Pugh, fear any hint of reverse discrimination could set the tribe back to the point of no return.
I'm firmly convinced that this CEO, if he continues to remain at the tribe, will be our tribe's undoing, he said.
No one answered at the home of the tribal chairman. And on the reservation-- none of the tribal elders wanted to comment either. But Judy Pendergrass believes they've said plenty through the actions.
To be treated as a substandard person just because of the color of my skin, and frankly part of the time I look more Indian than some of the tribal members, she said.
In the past the tribe has called the firings a budget decision. Depending on the outcome, the lawsuit could jeopardize the tribe's federal funding since much of it require tribal members abide by federal law. And that includes the Civil Rights Act.