Swinomish Tribe should drop suit

Editorial In Whidbey News-times

April 12, 2013 · Updated 3:54 PM 

The Swinomish Indian Tribe is seeking $9 million from City of Oak Harbor after construction unearthed a burial ground on Pioneer Way in 2011.

Since the discovery of the remains, the city has worked diligently with the tribe to ensure the remains are handled appropriately and reburied.

Filed now to beat the impending statute of limitations deadline, the Swinomish Tribe lawsuit is apparent backtracking on earlier promises to not sue if the city jumped through all of its hoops.

Estimated cost to the city so far to rectify the matter is about $4 million.

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley said this week he was “perplexed” and “disheartened” to learn of the tribe’s intent to sue the city.

Dudley said tribal Chairman Brian Cladoosby assured him the city wouldn’t be sued if they handled the situation appropriately.

“We were operating under the understanding that we would complete the recovery work and the reburial and that would be sufficient,” Dudley said.

Cladoosby declined to comment to that assertion because the impending litigation.

If Cladoosby indeed made that promise to the city, it should be honored.

In its suit, the tribe wants an additional $9 million for economic losses and “severe stress, anguish and spiritual and emotional distress.”

City staff were warned prior to the 2011 construction project about the “close proximity” of the archaeological site. It was “strongly recommended” that the city “retain the services of a professional archaeologist to monitor and report on ground disturbing activity … and help develop and implement a plan for cultural materials.”

City officials conceded employees overlooked the warning and acknowledged the city messed up. Since then, Oak Harbor has worked in good faith to rectify the situation.

The city has already forked out $4 million to fix its mistake.

Cost to properly rebury the remains could cost as much as an additional $2 million.

Of that initial $4 million, more than $600,000 was already paid to the tribe for work performed by spiritual leaders, monitors and handlers at the archaeological site.

The city is living up to its promise, the tribe should do the same and drop its lawsuit.