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Suit, petition offer glimpse into Cowlitz tribal conflict

Key ilani backer David Barnett, public safety director clash at March meeting

By , Columbian Business Editor
3 Photos
Cowlitz Indian Tribe Chairman William Iyall, left, ilani President and General Manager Kara Fox-LaRose, and Cowlitz tribal member David Barnett cut a ribbon at the casino’s April 24, 2017 grand opening ceremony.
Cowlitz Indian Tribe Chairman William Iyall, left, ilani President and General Manager Kara Fox-LaRose, and Cowlitz tribal member David Barnett cut a ribbon at the casino’s April 24, 2017 grand opening ceremony. The Columbian files Photo Gallery

David Barnett, an early driving force behind the ilani casino at the Cowlitz Indian Reservation near Ridgefield, filed a lawsuit this week accusing the tribe’s public safety director of defamation.

Barnett’s lawsuit says Donald Walkinshaw “made a range of false statements about Mr. Barnett” at a March 2 meeting of the Cowlitz Tribal Council meeting at the tribe’s headquarters in Longview. At the time, Barnett was general council tribal secretary, having been elected in 2018.

The lawsuit comes about two months after Walkinshaw filed a no-contact petition in Cowlitz County District Court in Longview, based on events at the March 2 meeting. The petition accuses Barnett of making threats.

About two weeks after filing the petition seeking court-ordered protection, Walkinshaw asked the court to dismiss the case, a Cowlitz County District Court clerk said Friday.

Barnett’s lawsuit, filed in Clark County Superior Court, seeks monetary damages against Walkinshaw and Walkinshaw’s wife.

“Walkinshaw made a range of false statements about Mr. Barnett at the (March 2) meeting,” the lawsuit says, including that Barnett had engaged in unethical activities, such as “bribing tribal members before an election by ‘handing out bags of cash.'”

Also, the suit says Walkinshaw said Barnett “is ‘evil’ and a ‘cancer’ and that he is going to ‘kill the whole tribe.'”

The lawsuit says the alleged statements stemmed from Barnett earlier telling Clark County authorities as well as a reporter for The Columbian that “the tribe was not honoring financial obligations that the tribe had entered into with (the county) as part of negotiations for the development of the ilani casino.”

Officials in county government and Ridgefield recently told The Columbian the tribe has made payments associated with an agreement put in place after the tribe’s 156-acre reservation was removed from the county property tax rolls.

Walkinshaw and other tribal officials mentioned in the lawsuit were not available for comment Friday.

Walkinshaw’s no-contact petition describes a confrontation at the March 2 meeting with Barnett in which Barnett allegedly made threatening statements to Walkinshaw. The petition says Barnett left the meeting at one point, texted a resignation to Tribal Chairman William Iyall, and later returned to the meeting, saying that he’d rescinded his resignation.

Iyall and Patty Kinswa-Gaiser, tribal council chair, said in a March 20 letter to the tribe’s General Council members that Barnett submitted his resignation to the tribe March 2 and the resignation was accepted.

“Furthermore,” the letter says, Barnett “no longer serves on any tribal board or committee … as a point of further clarification, David Barnett is not an authorized spokesperson or representative for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe in any capacity.”

Barnett, a real estate developer who is the son of former Tribal Chairman John Barnett, is credited with securing the initial acreage nearly 20 years ago that grew to the present site that serves as home for ilani as well as the tribal reservation. Barnett launched his efforts before the tribe had achieved federal recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Barnett remains involved in ilani’s economic development with the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut, which operates the casino through the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority.

Columbian Business Editor

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