Tribal Employees and Former Councilmember File Injunction on Council Action
By ALLIE HOSTLER, Two Rivers Tribune
A group of employees from the Hoopa Tribe’s Division of Human Services, along with a former tribal councilmember, filed a restraining order against the tribal council on Friday, November 2.
Although the request was filed as a restraining order in Hoopa Valley Tribal Court, according to court documents it is being processed as an injunction due to the nature of the request.
On October 11, the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council voted to merge its Human Services Department with K’ima:w Medical Center, a controversial move that Human Services employees believe could be detrimental to the services they provide, place their clients in harms way and alter their employment status.
Because it is a government action the petitioners seek to stop, rather than imminent physical harm, it is considered an injunction. And, since the move was to occur within 30 days, it is now considered a preliminary injunction to expedite the hearing process.
The move is controversial for a laundry list of reasons—voiced by each side of the argument—however, the petitioners are particularly concerned with what they consider to be a violation of tribal law, namely the Legislative Procedures Act.
The Legislative Procedures Act—Title 6—is a process designed to consider public comment before making major decisions affecting the Tribe, departments, or tribal laws.
“Tribal member’s rights need to be protected; tribal member’s legal and constitutional rights are being significantly affected by the Tribal Council’s action,” the summons reads. “They have been deprived of their right to public notice and comment on a major governmental action that impacts their community.”
On Thursday, November 1, at their regularly scheduled council meeting a motion was made to route the proposed merger of the two departments through the LPA process. The motion, made by Vice Chairman, Byron Nelson, failed after a roll call vote resulted in two yes votes from Margaret Dickson and Diana Ferris. Councilmembers voting no were Ryan Jackson, Hayley Hutt and Augustine Montgomery. Chairman Leonard Masten was recused due to a conflict of interest, therefore leaving Nelson without a vote.
“The tribal council is violating tribal law by refusing to put the matter through LPA,” the summons reads.
Under the law the tribal council and tribal court reserve the right to decide what constitutes a major decision under the LPA.
“The definition of the term “major action” as used in this Act shall be left to the reasonable interpretation of the Tribal Council and Tribal Court,” the ordinance reads in section 6.1.
Currently there are three proposed changes to tribal ordinances and procedures that are being routed through the LPA process, and were therefore considered major actions by the tribal council; one addresses the issue of the use of social media in the workplace. Another proposal seeks to clarify the terms of entity access to the Office of Tribal Attorney. Another seeks public comments on the proposed tribal budget for fiscal year 2013.
“The Council has not provided any clear explanation for the integration of Human Services and K’ima:w Medical Center and the membership deserves and explanation,” the summons reads.
Following the Oct. 11 council action to merge the more than $1.5 million dollar tribal entities within 30-days, the TRT spoke with several councilmembers who said the primary reason for the move is to integrate all of the medically-related programs under one roof—a growing trend throughout Indian Country that could help improve access to more holistic care.
Statistics show alarming connections between mental and physical illness. One study claims that 50 to 70 percent of depressed persons first seek help from a primary care provider. Another study claims that 40 percent of those who complete suicide had contact with a health professional within a month of their death, many of whom died by overdose on the prescription medications provided them at those visits.
“K’ima:w is already implementing Improved Patient Care (IPC), a team approach to healthcare that can appropriately incorporate mental health and social services,” Councilmember, Hayley Hutt wrote in an email to the TRT. “…Whatever
success the program has reached, it has not reached its maximum potential. Holistic care has already proved to be successful in Indian Country and we have a lot of hurting people who need holistic care.”
Hutt says there is nothing on hold at Human Services. She said they were directed to continue operating as normal.
“The K’ima:w Board and Temporary CEO have a plan. IHS [Indian Health Services] engineers are standing by to make necessary construction recommendations and K’ima:w can afford to make these changes,” Hutt said. “I don’t think we were voted in to keep the status-quo as is. Change is needed and this is a smart change.”
Others disagree saying the merger is on too tight of a deadline, strips tribal members of their right to voice their concerns and comments, eliminates a dedicated employee’s job and threatens to strip other employees of their benefits and status.
“Tribal members will not receive the same quality of mental health, drug and alcohol, child welfare and other services if the Divisions of Human Services is integrated; the confidentiality of Human Services clients will be compromised if the integration moves forward; Human Services employees, many of whom have given years of services to the Hoopa Valley Tribe, have no job security and could lose important benefits if the integration moves forward. This is in violation of their constitutional right to liberty and property under title VII of the tribal constitution,” the summons reads.
Pro Tem Judge to the Court, Christine Williams will hear the case during a preliminary hearing on Friday, Nov. 9.