Quinault Indian Nation files a federal discrimination suit over Coastal 1B League dissolution

The Quinault Indian Nation, in defense of Taholah High School and its student-athletes, has filed a federal lawsuit against the four school districts that dissolved the Coastal 1B League in an action that severed competition between Taholah and their teams.

The suit contends the four school districts and their representatives based their decision to dissolve the league on racial discrimination.

On Thursday afternoon, the Quinaults filed a federal discrimination suit against four school districts — Lake Quinault, Wishkah, Mary M. Knight and North River — accusing them with civil rights violations against the tribal school.

The lawsuit contends that league officials violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, “protections of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution” and Washington state law in the process. It asks for federal relief to give Taholah’s student-athletes equal access to interscholastic sports through league and postseason play.

“This lawsuit is a direct result of the actions of the Coastal 1B Athletic League and its recently imposed sanctions against the Taholah School District athletic programs, which directly impacted our tribal member student-athletes,” Quinault Indian Nation president Fawn Sharp said in a press release.

“Our first objective was to support our athletes during the appeal and ensure they returned to team sports,” Sharp said. “Our second objective is to now ensure those responsible for depriving our students of a league and postseason play are held accountable.”

Lake Quinault superintendent Rich Dubois and Mary M. Knight superintendent Beth Daneker said on Monday that they have not been served papers on the lawsuit, only a request from lawyers not to destroy documents or emails pertaining to the dissolution of the league. Both Dubois and Daneker declined further comment. North River superintendent David Pickering also declined comment and calls to Wishkah superintendent Ray Yoder were not returned.

On Jan. 28, based on Taholah’s appeal, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Executive Board overturned postseason sanctions against the Taholah athletic department that had been recommended by the Coastal League athletic directors.

The postseason ban was one of three actions taken by the league on Dec. 21. One of the actions was a postseason ban against the Taholah track & field program, but WIAA District IV officials removed the ban after the Chitwhins’ head track & field coach was dismissed.

This action was not heard by the WIAA Executive Board.

The third and final action taken at the meeting was to dissolve the league, effective Jan. 1, on a 4-1 vote. The four schools named in the lawsuit voted to dissolve the league, while a fifth member of the league, Oakville, voted no. Taholah representatives, based on documents The Daily World gained through state open records laws, were told of the meeting, but didn’t send a representative.

The WIAA Executive Board ruled the six schools in the league as independents, but they had to honor the league’s 2012-13 winter schedule that was tossed out on Dec. 21. For the spring sports seasons, which officially began on Monday, all six schools are free to schedule their own contests in baseball, softball and track & field.

Taholah officials told the WIAA during the appeal that the dissolution of the league was, in and of itself, a penalty against Taholah by the other schools in an effort to keep from playing it. League officials, in announcing the dissolution of the league, stated the reason for the decision came “as a result of numerous sportsmanship, compliance/eligibility and serious safety issues (against Taholah).”

“Taholah’s athletic league has remained dissolved and, while the sanctions have been overturned, the intentional and calculated attempt to isolate our athletes from an equal opportunity at fair play remains unaddressed,” Sharp said. “Our athletes, for well over a month and all through their Christmas break, were shattered by the prospect that they may never again play high school athletics. Some had high hopes for demonstrating their talents to college recruiters. Those dreams were dashed.”

Sharp also noted that the loss of the league in basketball forced the school’s teams to look for games outside of the area, including a six-hour one-way trip to Lummi, and cited hardships in long-distance travel for contests.

Oakville was the only area 1B school that faced Taholah during the regular season, although the Chitwhins played a handful of other regular-season games — against North Beach, Forks and some teams from outside the area. After its postseason eligibility was restored, Taholah’s boys and girls qualified for the state Class 1B tournament beginning Thursday in Spokane.

The lawsuit contends that the four school districts and their representatives used “intentional racial discrimination” against Taholah’s student-athletes by dissolving the league and diminishing the school’s “equal opportunity … to participate in extracurricular athletic activities.”

“This is an issue that has gone on for a long time,” QIN public relations spokesman Steve Robinson said. “The athletes have had racial slurs hurled at them. There will be a lot of stories told that go back decades. Basically, the Quinaults aren’t going to tolerate it anymore. This is the last straw. The idea of abolishing the league brought hardships upon the kids who deserve far better than that.”

“Everybody in our region can agree that rivalries exist here that go beyond the typical emotions of athletic competition, and that these rivalries are very long standing,” Sharp said. “Every generation here has felt the same anger and frustration our athletes feel today at each end of a sharply polarized spectrum. As leaders and citizens, we all have a responsibility to confront our differences, both on and off the field of play. We cannot stand by and allow our young people to feel the deep cut of multi-generational hatred any longer. These issues have been in the court of public opinion far too long. To help protect future generations we must now go into a court of law to achieve the justice this generation and future generations deserve.

“Our athletes are there to play and should not be denied that opportunity,” Sharp said. “We are going to stand up for them, it’s as simple as that.”