Nooksack members affected by de-registration will be evicted from the tribe while federal agencies investigate

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A longstanding dispute over membership in the Nooksack Indian Tribe east of Bellingham flares up again after several years of relative calm.

The Nooksack government, which began efforts nearly a decade ago to deregister more than 300 of the tribe’s approximately 2,000 members, is continuing a multi-step process that has resulted in the eviction of certain families from their homes.

Tribal Police have been visiting a number of families in the past few weeks to deliver notices related to the trial, including at least one eviction order that caused consternation among families during the pandemic and holiday season and prompted their attorney in Seattle to post To urge federal authorities to resign in.

The possible evictions of the families result from the de-registration – with controversial questions of parentage, instead of having missed rent or maintenance, so her lawyer Gabe Galanda, who accuses civil rights violations.

By Thursday, two US authorities had asked the tribe to pause the investigation. The Nooksack government is closed this week, but Ross Cline Sr., chairman of the tribal council, said in an interview on Friday, “As far as I know, we are making progress.”

Most of the so-called “Nooksack 306” live on tribal property, but according to Galanda there are 21 households with 63 people at risk of displacement, including the elderly and children. Their homes have been subsidized through federal programs, including hire-purchase programs, he says.

“We have a thick skin attacking us, but this time it just seems to have a little more teeth,” said Michelle Roberts, 57, who was evicted from the house where they lived, along with her husband turns 15. “You’re getting closer to being sacked.”

Cline says the tribe are simply taking overdue action to enforce their rules. Fearing that Galanda’s aggressive lobbying could win over federal bureaucrats, he says the attorney, a member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of California, is meddling.

“He may be Indian, but he doesn’t want Indians to have sovereignty,” Cline said of Galanda.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which Galanda argues that it funded the relevant Nooksack homes, has sent several letters to the tribe, “raising concerns about potential violations of Indian Civil Rights Act as well as potential issues with HUD programmatic compliance express, “a HUD said a spokesman this week.

The HUD referred the matter to the U.S. Department of the Interior in September, demanding then and more recently that the tribe suspend evictions until after a HUD review and investigation by the Department of the Interior, the spokesman added.

An inside spokesman declined to comment this week, but Darryl LaCounte, director of the division’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, sent a letter to Cline on Thursday with similar issues.

“The Bureau of Indian Affairs respects tribal sovereignty and supports tribal self-determination. We also have a responsibility to ensure that all applicable laws and regulations are followed when executing federal programs, ”the LaCounte letter stated.

“We have been told that the Nooksack tribe has planned several evictions … [that] may include individuals who have and can purchase their homes under a lease with the tribe [HUD] Financing. There are extremely worrying allegations of possible violations of the Civil Rights Act and Indian Civil Rights Act, ”the letter went on to say, requesting a delay of at least 30 days from the tribe.

The letter goes on to say, “We know that some of these people are older and eviction during the winter months could have serious effects on their health and well-being.”

When asked about Friday’s letter, Cline said the Nooksack tribe is cooperating with the agencies by providing certain materials for review. He also referred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs as “BIA – Bossing Indians Around”.

In October, in response to an earlier letter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Cline denounced Galanda’s allegations as unfounded.

He wrote in part: “The tribe has tried to strengthen their relationship in recent years [the Department of the Interior]. … After years of progress, the tribe is once again forced to respond to vague allegations that are being channeled through [the department]. “

The backstory

Earlier episodes of the dispute have made the Nooksack 306 a flagship for de-registration across the country and Galanda a leading opponent of the practice, which can include struggles for power and resources, as well as issues of culture and identity.

Federal and state agencies typically do not intervene in tribal matters, as federal laws and court judgments recognize tribes as sovereign. But various moves by the Nooksack government resulted in authorities withholding millions of dollars a few years ago.

Cline says the 306 were mistakenly enrolled in the 1980s, failing to adequately prove their lineage under the tribe’s constitution and statutes, and has been legally expelled from the tribal council. In 2016 there was a de-registration procedure, in 2018 it was ratified by telephone survey.

Nooksack members must trace their families back to a specific group of homesteaders or a 1942 census, Cline says, claiming that the 306 were descended from a related band based in Canada and didn’t meet any of the criteria.

However, the 306 and Galanda are still denying de-registrations, both in terms of virtues (of parentage and documentation) and in terms of the way decisions were made (with 10-minute phone hearings at one point).

“My grandmother spoke the language. She was one of the last remaining cedar basket weavers, ”said Roberts. “We had the education.”

Galanda claims that his clients are unusually vulnerable to placement because the Nooksack government has prevented him and other opposing non-tribe attorneys from representing them on tribal matters.

“Everyone needs the protection of human rights,” he said.

Cline says he wants to put an end to the de-registration battle once and for all.

“The Nooksack Tribe paid dearly for what little they have,” Cline said, arguing that the continued integration of the 306 could pose a threat to the cohesion of the tribe. “In a way, you could call it genocide, making the blood thinner and thinner,” he said.

To make matters worse, some families exposed to eviction include both enrolled and non-enrolled members.

“I just canceled Christmas to save money,” because he might have to move, said Saturnino Javier, 47, who was given 14-day notice on December 13.

What’s happening

The tribe had previously attempted to evict one of the 306, but several lawsuits filed by Galanda kept the housing matter pending for years while the lawsuits were pending in U.S. courts, says Cline, who was elected in 2018. These lawsuits were dismissed on legal grounds earlier this year.

“It was like dominoes falling one at a time,” Cline said. “That cleared the way for us to initiate the evacuation process. … I think everything [the households with disenrolled members] will eventually expect the evacuation. “

According to the Nooksack government, only enrolled members are certified for tribal accommodation. The delivery of notices by the police is a “standard practice” for the tribe, and there are opportunities for people to appeal their cases during the decertification and eviction process, Cline says.

Galanda and its clients say the police visits – some outside of business hours – are unnecessary and intimidating. They say the ways to challenge their cases are window dressing.

“I want to say these are courtesy meetings,” said Roberts. “We don’t have a due process because we can’t have a representative.”

The HUD connection is crucial, claims Galanda, saying that almost all of the homes in question were developed as rental apartments, meaning his clients should own their homes or hold equity. Cline disagrees with this characterization, saying the documentation will prove he’s right.

In the past few weeks Galanda has asked several agencies to intervene and even made an appeal to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. “I asked for help,” he said, describing the argument as “near a breaking point.”

This coverage is provided in part by Microsoft Philanthropies. The Seattle Times retains editorial control over this and all of its reporting.


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