Patrick, family cited for violating COVID-19 social gathering order

By Wil Phinney of the CUJ

MISSION – Toby Patrick and perhaps as many as 16 others who attended his Easter feast in April have been issued citations for violating a COVID-19 social gathering order issued by the Board of Trustees (BOT) for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR).

Conviction for failure to comply carries a potential sentence of a year in jail or a fine of up to $5,000. The citations state that Patrick and the others violated BOT Resolution 20-028. The citations, like a traffic ticket, give Patrick and the others the options of pleading no contest and paying a fine; pleading no contest, sending an explanation to let the court decide; or pleading not guilty and requesting a trial.

Patrick was issued the citation at about 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 2, by Tribal Police Det. Tony Barnett, who investigated the case 40 days earlier on April 22. Up to that point, Patrick had not heard a word about the incident. In addition to Toby, his wife, Julia, and his daughter, Susie, also received citations. Patrick said Barnett told him every person over the age of 18 who attended the root feast was being cited. Patrick put that number at 17. He said most of those people are enrolled members of the CTUIR, but many are enrolled members from Yakama who live on this reservation.

“He just showed up and gave me the citation,” Patrick said. “He told all my family. I never expected it to make it to this point. I think this is a huge abuse of power.”

In an interview June 1, before the citations were issued, Patrick acknowledged that the feast, which drew more than two dozen family members, violated the 10-or-less social gathering directive issued by the BOT as recommended by the COVID-19 Incident Command Team. But Patrick maintained the position he took when he hosted his feast and when the initial investigation took place four days later, that the feast was about honoring the foods that his elders promised would protect him and his family.

He said he recognizes the reasoning behind the CTUIR “Stay home, stay safe” policy, but he also stands firm on his own beliefs.

“I understand the Board is in charge. I understand what their job is, to keep us safe, but it’s not like I’m some kind of criminal,” Patrick said.

After the front page story in the May CUJ, Patrick said he had to explain himself to plenty of people. It didn’t get ugly, he said, but people questioned why he would host a gathering during the pandemic. He told them, “’You don’t understand who I am, who we are as a people.’ A lot do know who I am and how I was raised and they give me respect.”

Some of his family members have encouraged him to make this into a political fight, but Patrick was hesitant to do so. Recall, he said, would only create “more resentment and ugliness” because recall “goes after people, not titles.” But he’s shaking his head about this citation.

“It’s goofy,” he said. “My whole family is being drug through the mud like we brought the virus here. This makes it ugly. Holy smokes. I don’t want to point fingers, but this is getting ugly.”

The CUJ was not able to confirm the number of people cited. Tribal Prosecutor Kyle Daley did not respond to requests for comment from the CUJ.