The Quinault Indian Nation is suing four neighboring school districts for racial discrimination, stemming from a decision made earlier in the year by those districts to dissolve a high school athletic conference.
The dissolution of the Coastal Conference, the federal lawsuit contends, left a fifth, largely Native American public school in Taholah with virtually no teams to play.
“They acted outside the rules of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA),” said Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp, “We have a sacred duty, we’re leaders. It’s been going on for too long. We have to draw the line and support our students.”
Lake Quinault, Mary M. Knight, North River and Wishkah Valley School Districts are all defendants in the lawsuit filed last week. The four made up the conference and earlier this school year tried to have Taholah kicked out, citing “safety and sportsmanship issues.” Allegations involving a gun at a football game and teams “running up the score” were mentioned.
Taholah appealed the move to the WIAA and won, leading the four other districts to dissolve the league and go on their own.
“We (four other districts) decided to go independent,” said Lake Quinault Superintendent Rich DuBois, “We decided as a league the issues with Taholah happened with regular season games.
“We felt issues weren’t taken care of,” DuBois continued. He said he could not specify any more reasons because of the pending litigation.
The Quinault Nation lawsuit focuses on the treatment of its students at games, calling harassment against them “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive.”
“When you have officials in public places responsible for making decisions, if they have these biases, they need to look at decisions objectively,” said Sharp.
Dissolving the Coastal Conference in December meant the Taholah Chitwhins teams did not play for a month, until post-season sports began. Both the boys and girls basketball teams have qualified for the state tournament.
Taholah Interim Athletic Director Jerry Walter said students should not be punished because of adult politics.
“These are kids that have played against each other since the fifth grade,” Walter explained. “Now, they’re saying it’s over with?”