When tragedy struck, Washington state boy found healing in a canoe

Hamilton Seymour, 15, of Bellingham, Wash., introduced first lady Michelle Obama at the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, D.C., on July 9, 2015.ROB HOTAKAINEN — McClatchy
Hamilton Seymour, 15, of Bellingham, Wash., introduced first lady Michelle Obama at the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington, D.C., on July 9, 2015.




WASHINGTON — After losing his father to suicide in 2012, teenager Hamilton Seymour said he wanted to find something positive in his life: He found healing by paddling his canoe.

“It’s my personal outlet,” said Seymour, a 15-year-old member of the  Nooksack Indian Tribe from Bellingham, Wash. “It’s where I can get away, even if I’m with people.”

Convinced that exercise is “a stress reliever” and the key to improving mental health, Seymour now is pushing other members of his tribe to deal with grief and celebrate their culture by carving canoes and singing traditional Native songs as they paddle their way to fitness. His efforts are gaining attention.

After Seymour won a national award earlier this year from the  Center for Native American Youth, he found the spotlight on Thursday at the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering, when he was picked to introduce  first lady Michelle Obama before her speech to the group.

“It was just surreal,” said Seymour.




An official in the first lady’s office said Seymour was chosen because his story served as a “source of inspiration” for other Indian youths. But Seymour speculated that there was another reason.

“I’ve been told they did a background check and they looked at our social media,” he said. “And I luckily only have Facebook and I don’t post anything vulgar, inappropriate or like just stupid stuff people post these days.”

Seymour was one of five Indian youths from across the nation cited as a 2015 “champion for change” by the Center for Native American Youth, an award that recognizes youths who are making a difference in their communities. Center officials noted that while most adults are uncomfortable talking about such issues as sexual abuse and suicide, Indian youth leaders are tackling the issues head on.

Seymour, whose parents divorced when he was 6 years old, said he didn’t want to discuss specifics of his father’s suicide. But he said the act of violence leaves survivors suffering.

Growing up, he said, he has learned that “you only get out of this world what you put in,” but he said he doesn’t want to judge others who struggle. He said many Indian kids are growing up in homes where parents are fighting and the children aren’t getting enough sleep or food.

“High school’s tricky,” he said. “You never really know what someone’s going through.”


Seymour said his application for the award focused on keeping culture alive through traditional sports. As part of his project, he has lined up 11 other teens to help him paddle canoes in races.

“What paddling is doing for us is getting us stronger – obviously physically, but also mentally, spiritually and emotionally,” he said. “It’s just beautiful.”

Seymour said paddling comes naturally to him, with the tradition strong on both sides of his family.

He said his father, a Canadian Indian who was in his early 30s when he committed suicide, was a champion paddler.

“He was a phenomenal man, and I’d like to carry out his name and his spirit through paddling. . . . I feel like paddling is only one of the few things that I have left of him,” Seymour said.

Some of Seymour’s friends from Bellingham, who are also in the nation’s capital this week as part of various tribal youth events, said Seymour has come a long way.

“I’ve known Hammi my whole life – he’s our baby,” said Sarah Scott, 21, a mentor for the Lummi Nation’s tribal youth recreation program. “In the last year, he’s just blossomed into this natural leader on a national platform, and to me that is just so inspiring.”


William Lucero, 18, another member of the Lummi Nation, said it was remarkable to watch Seymour get a hug from the first lady.

“I was jealous,” he said. “It’s so cool.”

Seymour, who will be a junior at Mount Baker High School in Deming, Wash., this fall, said it was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” to share the stage with Michelle Obama.

“I didn’t know she was that tall,” he said.

When an announcer called his name, saying it was time to introduce the first lady of the United States, Seymour said he temporarily lost his breath.

“I took one step and I felt all the oxygen just leave my body,” he said. “I got told to take three deep breaths. I did that, but my heart was pumping. It was just so great.”

Seymour figures his life is looking pretty bright, too.

“I can’t tell the future, but I’m really hoping, and I really feel like it’s going to be great,” he said.


Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2015/07/10/3910390_when-tragedy-struck-washington.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Lawyer: Nooksack River Casino unable to pay debt, could close

The Nooksack River Casino in Deming.THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
The Nooksack River Casino in Deming.


By Samantha Wohlfeil, The Bellingham Herald

The Nooksack River Casino’s days could be numbered, pending a ruling in Whatcom County Superior Court later this year.

Since at least 2011, the Nooksack Business Corporation an entity owned by the Nooksack Indian Tribe, has tried to shirk its responsibility to pay back about $15 million in loans it obtained from now-defunct BankFirst in 2006. The corporation, owner and operator of Nooksack River Casino, got the loan to pay off some debt and renovate its Deming casino.

The corporation made payments for about a year before it went into default, kicking off the first of three agreements it would make with Outsource Services Management, a loan servicing company. After the casino failed to make payments under each agreement, Outsource sued for breach of contract in Whatcom County Superior Court.

Though the tribe agreed it had waived its sovereign immunity, it tried to argue the Superior Court didn’t have jurisdiction over the case, and moved for dismissal.

After the case made its way to the Washington State Supreme Court, it was decided in August 2014 that the tribe could not claim its sovereignty trumped the terms of the loan contract, and the case was sent back to Superior Court.

On Friday, April 17, Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Deborra Garrett heard from lawyers for both sides.

Lawyer Jerome Miranowski argued on behalf of Outsource, asking for a summary judgment of $20.7 million in past-due loan payments, fees, and interest. Lawyer Connie Sue Martin, on behalf of the tribal corporation, argued that Outsource had failed to show the casino had actually made any money on top of what it deemed necessary for daily operations, and therefore had failed to show that anything was owed under the terms of the loan.

But Outsource argued that there were agreed-upon base payments to be made each month under the loan agreement, and then on top of that, certain profits would be added to those payments.

In court documents, the tribe alleged that even without making payments on the loan since 2010, the casino had operated at a loss and is currently $2 million in the hole, aside from the loan. The tribal corporation asked for a ruling on what the consequences of closing its casino would be.

“It is an inescapable truth that the River will never, ever generate sufficient revenue to repay the original balance of the loan, much less the additional almost $6 million OSM contends has accrued in penalties, interest and fees,” the corporation’s court documents state. “It cannot be questioned that OSM would not have the right or authority to compel NBC to continue operating the casino simply to pay a judgment to OSM.”

But Miranowski said that was not the issue.

“The issue is whether some money will be generated, to pay some part of the debt, at some time,” he said in court Friday afternoon.

The loan stipulates that Outsource could go after gaming machines and the furnishings inside the casino, along with enterprise accounts, but otherwise is limited. Likewise, the corporation argued that if the casino were to close tomorrow, Outsource could go only after those few items.

“If we close the casino and turn over all the property, then it’s done,” Martin said.

Miranowski explained that the lender wouldn’t want the casino to close.

“The situation, your honor, with lenders to Indian casinos is this: Lenders have very limited remedies, no mortgage on the property, they can’t manage the casino itself, so it’s a symbiotic relationship where essentially the lender and NBC have to get along, because the lender has sort of an ultimate ability to effect whether the casino operates,” Miranowski said. “It doesn’t want to do anything to damage the casino, but if they have no other remedy they have to consider that.”

In 2012 when Outsource tried to get the tribe’s other casino, Northwood, which was then Northern Crossings, to cough up roughly $26 million it had borrowed from a different bank to design and build the casino, the tribe dissolved its ownership entity Nooksack Business Corp. II and transferred all that casino’s assets to another entity, court documents allege.

“That’s why we’re pushing for a judgment, so we get protections,” Miranowski argued. “The tribe was very bold to simply dissolve the Crossings corporate entity and transfer to another one not subject to the judgment.”

Garrett said she read the loan agreement as prohibiting that, but opted to enter an order Friday or within a week that would prohibit the tribal corporation from transferring “all or substantially all of its assets to another entity.” The parties were to work out the exact order and get back to the judge.

Along similar lines, Martin said that in the Northwood case, Outsource had wrongfully garnished accounts not belonging to Nooksack Business Corp. II, but belonging to the River casino, and some of the tribe’s other properties.

“We’re trying to prevent that,” Martin said.

So Garrett also said Outsource was not allowed to try to collect money until a judgment is made.

Both sides are expected back in Garrett’s courtroom in May or June, when a judgment could be issued.

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2015/04/17/4247084_lawyer-nooksack-river-casino-unable.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Embattled Nooksacks win delay in loss of membership

By John Stark, The Bellingham Herald

DEMING – The 306 people facing loss of Nooksack Indian Tribe membership have won a round in tribal court, getting a judge to order the tribal council to stop its latest effort to oust them.

The Thursday, June 12, ruling from Tribal Court Chief Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis stems from a March 2014 Nooksack Court of Appeals ruling. The appeals judge panel had ordered a halt to the process of removing people from tribal enrollment rosters until the tribal council could draw up an ordinance spelling out the procedures for stripping people of tribal membership. Such an ordinance also would require approval from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the appeals court ruled.

But in mid-May the tribal council began sending out new notices to some members of the affected families, scheduling July disenrollment hearings before the tribal council under the terms of a 2005 tribal membership ordinance that received BIA approval in 2006. Gabe Galanda, the Seattle attorney representing the threatened families, went back to court to challenge the legality of that maneuver.

After an earlier hearing, Montoya-Lewis agreed that the tribal council was out of bounds.

“This approach appears to be an attempt to circumvent the very clear holdings of the Court of Appeals,” Montoya-Lewis wrote.

While the judge’s ruling delays the move to strip the 306 of tribal membership, it likely will not stop it. There appears to be no legal obstacle to the process, once the tribal council passes the necessary ordinance and gets federal approval. Nooksack Tribal Council Chairman Bob Kelly, who has pushed for the disenrollment, was recently reelected and has the support of a majority of council members.

The disenrollment controversy began in early 2013 after Kelly and a majority of other council members agreed that members of the Rabang, Rapada and Narte-Gladstone families had been incorrectly enrolled in the 2,000-member tribe in the 1980s, and their enrollments should be revoked.

Since then, members of the affected families have mounted a vigorous legal and public relations effort to retain their Nooksack membership. That membership entitles them to a wide range of benefits, among them fishing rights, health care, access to tribal housing and small cash payments for Christmas and back-to-school expenses.

Those facing the loss of tribal membership have based their membership claim on their descent from Annie George, who died in 1949. Members of those three families have introduced evidence that Annie George was Nooksack, but those who want the three families out have noted that George’s name does not appear on a list of those who got original allotments of tribal land or on a 1942 tribal census, and those two criteria determine legal eligibility for membership.

March 15 Vote Could Reverse WA Indian Tribal Membership Purge


On March 15, 2014 a very important vote will take place on the Deming, Washington Reservation of The Nooksack Indian Tribe. The Tribe has attempted a mass disenrollment of more than 300 enrolled tribal members. Represented by Gabe Galanda of Galanda Broadman, several lawsuits have been filed in tribal court and in federal court. Elections of the Tribal Council and its officers, however, could alter the balance of power and the attempted purge.

Galanda says that the elections are essentially a referendum on the disenrollment. “The results of the primary signaled that the current Council lacks a mandate for that mass disenrollment,” he says.  “In the general election the Nooksack People, who have been silenced in all political forums for the last fourteen months, will rightfully have a say in the matter.”

In the case of most American Indian tribes, historically the tribes have had the power to determine tribal membership. For centuries tribes “banished” people as punishment for serious offenses. In recent years, however, a trend has been evident with tribes canceling membership, or “disenrolling” tribal members due to claims of inferior membership qualification.

While the most recent trend evidences the most cases arising in California, the practice is not exclusive to California and there are cases throughout the United States. Recent mass disenrollments are spreading along the West Coast to Washington and Oregon as well. Although there is no way to know exactly how many Indians have been disenrolled, the numbers are substantial. One activist group says at least 5,000 tribal members were disenrolled in California alone between 2000 and 2008.

Motivation for the disenrollment trend nationally is hotly debated. Some experts point to internal personal squabbles or political factional differences as the source of the trend. Others point to the simultaneous enrichment of tribes from casino gambling. Tribal governments universally deny that greed or power is motivating disenrollment, declaring that they are upholding membership rules established in valid internal constitutions. As proof, they say they are removing people with tangential connections to the tribe, who joined primarily for benefits, services, scholarships and in some instances monthly checks financed by the casino profits.

Galanda believes that the federal law, the Indian Civil Rights Act and the Tribe’s own Constitution guarantees the Nooksack 306 constitutional rights that have been violated and he’s hoping to convince the courts that he’s right. So far he has been unsuccessful in the tribal courts but neither Galanda nor his clients are giving up.

‘Nooksack 306’ Wards Off Disenrollment With Multiple Legal Actions


Gale Courey Toensing, Indian Country Today Media Network, 3/3/14

Two members of the “Nooksack 306” – Nooksack Indian Tribe citizens who are fighting disenrollment – are awaiting an appeals court ruling on a case involving their alleged unconstitutional removal from the tribal council.

Council members Michelle Roberts and Rudy St. Germaine, along with more than 270 of the members targeted for disenrollment, filed a motion in Nooksack Tribal Court of Appeals February 18 seeking an emergency review of a February 7 order by Nooksack Tribal Court Chief Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis, denying an injunction to stop Council Chairman Robert Kelly and other defendants from removing Roberts and St. Germaine from the council and reinstate them to their elected positions. Montoya-Lewis said the council had the power to remove them and that the court did not have the power to deal with the political aspects of the events.

According to the court documents, Kelly called three emergency meetings over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, effectively blocked Roberts and St. Germaine from attending the meeting via teleconference and, at the last meeting, led the council in removing them from office for missing three meetings.

The motion to the Nooksack Tribal Court of Appeals asking for a review of Montoya-Lewis’s order is the latest action in a long series of legal moves that have taken place since February 2013, when the tribal council under Kelly’s direction passed Resolution 13-02: Initiating Involuntary Disenrollment for Certain Descendants of Annie James (George). The common thread among the 306 members facing disenrollment is their mixed Filipino and American Indian heritage. Moreno Peralta, spokesman for the families, told Indian Country Today Media Network that the families believe they are being dispossessed of their Nooksack identity because of their mixed Nooksack and Filipino ancestry.

RELATED: Nooksack Indian Tribe in Disenrollment Fight

Attorney Gabriel Galanda of the Seattle firm of Galanda Broadman is representing the Nooksack 306 and has challenged a number of Montoya-Lewis’s rulings in support of the tribal council before the Nooksack Tribal Court of Appeals. The appeals court ordered a halt to the disenrollment process while the legal issues are under review, ruling tribal membership is not tied to a 1942 federal census, as the Kelly Faction has maintained since starting to disenroll the Nooksack 306 last February. More than a dozen members of the Nooksack 306, including Roberts, say that since the disenrollment effort began they have been fired from jobs with the tribe and others have been denied tribal housing assistance, even though they have not yet been removed from tribal membership rolls.

Kelly did not respond to a request for comment.

In an open letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn, posted on Indian Country Today Media Network February 25, Roberts implored the federal officials to intervene in the Nooksack disenrollment conflict. She cited the violence that erupted at the Cedarville Rancheria when former tribal council chair Cherie Lash Rhoades gunned down five people, killing four of them, and stabbed a sixth.

RELATED: Nooksack’s Michelle Roberts Submits Open Letter to Jewell & Washburn

RELATED: Cedarville Rancheria Shooter Killed Brother, Niece, Nephew: Police

Roberts cited a media report that described the Cedarville killings as “the latest, and most chilling, example of tribal violence over power struggles and disenrollments.”

“So we have worried about the dispute turning violent on our reservation. History teaches us that when democracy falters, when there is no due process, when free speech is stifled, people take matters into their own hands,” Roberts wrote.

However, according to the Associated Press, Rhoades was being evicted from her home, but not disenrolled from the tribe.

Roberts called disenrollment “a creature of the federal government.” It was foreign to Indian people until the 1930s, when the United States began ‘reorganizing’ tribes and the Interior Department began “foisting boilerplate constitutions on tribes” that include disenrollment provisions. “Our traditions do not… Disenrollment is therefore your business,” she told the federal officials.

Interior Department spokeswoman Nedra Darling said the department cannot comment on pending litigation.

Moreno Peralta, the Nooksack spokesman, said the Nooksack 306 group is prepared to take the disenrollment conflict into the international arena, but must first exhaust all available legal venues here.

“As clichéd as it sounds, we have not yet begun to fight. We still have two lawsuits pending before the Nooksack tribal court judge and three appeals before the Nooksack appeals court. We are hopeful that the Nooksack appellate judges will strike down the entire disenrollment,” Peralta said.

If that does not happen, the Nooksack 306 will move ahead with a pending federal court lawsuit against Interior officials regarding an allegedly unlawful federal disenrollment election that took place last summer. “That case could take us to the highest courts in the land,” Peralta said. The group is also considering another federal court lawsuit against the Kelly faction, alleging a violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act for depriving the Nooksack 306 of Christmas per capita payments. “The Nooksack judge refused to hold the Kelly faction in contempt of her own order but a federal court judge might not be so kind to them given how egregiously they have violated federal gaming laws,” Peralta said. The Nooksack 306 is also waiting to see the results of a National Indian Gaming Commission investigation into the matter.

“If all of those domestic legal efforts fail, our lawyers are already poised to pursue our claims internationally for violation of various human rights laws,” Peralta said.

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/03/03/nooksack-306-wards-disenrollment-multiple-legal-actions-153824?page=0%2C2



Tribal Membership Revocations: Dialing For Dollars?

Article By:

Dennis J. Whittlesey

Patrick Sullivan

Dickinson Wright PLLC

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Over the past several years, there have been a series of publicized tribal enrollment revocations of enrolled members – including former tribal leaders – and their entire families. While this phenomenon was extremely rare in the past, it is becoming increasingly and disturbingly common.

Many in Indian Country openly trace this activity from the date on which the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act became law in 1988 and tribes too often spending large amounts of their casino revenues in per capita payments to tribal members. In some cases, as tribal populations grew, revenue distributions were accordingly reduced to continue payments to all members. In other cases, the economic downturn that dates back to 2007-08 led to reduced casino revenues and, in turn, reduced individual payments. Still, many have linked dollar reductions in per capita payments to the increase in expelling members.

These facts are well reported and discussed below in some detail. The casual reader will ask how this could be possible, or even legal. Various legal challenges to disenrollments have been unsuccessful, whether they directly challenge the tribes themselves or seek to compel the Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”) to intervene.

Tribal Challenges usually are made in the face of tribal sovereign immunity and are routinely dismissed. While the federal Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 ostensibly offers legal protections to the victims of enrollment revocations, the reality is that the law is toothless and is not the vehicle through which individual Indians have gained much of anything in the way of rights protection.

BIA Challenges are the alternative, and they involve asking the BIA to intervene to protect the rights of those being banished from their tribal membership, but that agency officially takes the position that the issue of tribal membership is purely a tribal matter and not something in which the federal government will – or even should – become involved.

It is worth noting that the BIA has interceded in enrollment disputes in some unusual cases, the most noteworthy of which is probably that of the Buena Vista Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians of Amador County, California. The Buena Vista is a recognized tribe that until a few years ago consisted of one adult named Donnamarie Potts. For reasons that are not altogether clear, the BIA examined Ms. Potts’s status as a descendant to the single Indian family formerly residing on the Buena Vista Rancheria and concluded that she has no ancestral tie to the land and, accordingly, was not a lawful member of the recognized Rancheria tribe. Indeed, the BIA concluded that a second adult named Rhonda Morningstar Pope was the sole adult descendant of the resident Indian family and thus the only person entitled to lawful tribal membership in the Rancheria tribe. As a result of that BIA administrative action, Potts was removed and Pope’s family has subsequently constituted the entire tribal membership.

It is also worth noting that the Rancheria tribe has been attempting to develop a casino on the former Rancheria lands for some 10 years but without success as of this date.

Possible Connections Between Tribal Casino Revenues and Membership Revocations

While there are a number of tribes that have disenrolled members, these writers are not aware of any non-gaming tribes that have done so. Disenrollments are reality, but an established connection between reduced casino revenue distributions and disenrollments is somewhat hypothetical. Nonetheless, examining the facts is enlightening.

For the purposes of this article, it is useful to examine the three tribes currently embroiled in “enrollment reductions” that have received the greatest attention. They are (1) the Pala Band of Mission Indians of California, (2) the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians of California, and (3) the Nooksack Tribe of Washington. They all have operated tribal casinos for a number of years. They all have been making per capita payments to tribal members. They all have disenrolled hundreds of members over the past several years. And they all apparently began disenrolling members shortly after experiencing downturns in casino cash flow that finance the members’ distributions.

The question is whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship between revenue declines and revocations of membership. The known facts speak for themselves, as does the high level of acrimony now infecting each tribe. However, in each case, the tribes are relying on conclusions as to enrollment entitlement that the BIA has the expertise and experience to determine, but declines to do so. The professional historians and genealogists at the Department of the Interior could resolve the disputes with finality, just as they did at the Buena Vista Rancheria. Thus far, they have elected to do nothing, leaving tribes in chaos and disenrolled members in distress.

Pala Band of Mission Indians

The Pala Indian Reservation is in Southern California, and it houses the Pala Casino which opened in 2001. The casino has been immensely successful, to the point that each tribal member currently receives about $150,000 in per capita payments annually from gaming revenues, as well as housing subsidies, health care, and educational benefits. When the casino’s revenues dropped in 2012, the Tribe’s per capita payments dropped by $500 per month, and the membership grew disenchanted with the decline in each member’s income. The drop in revenue resulted in financial pressure on members who relied on the payments, with the result that a long-simmering membership dispute flared into open hostility and ultimately a massive disenrollment revoking the membership of one-sixth of the Tribe’s population.

The Tribe’s membership rules require at least 1/16 Pala ancestry. Such “blood quantum” membership rules necessarily lead to an evershrinking tribal membership as members frequently marry outside the tribe. The dispute centered on a single woman named Margarita Britten, who is an ancestor of all of the disenrolled members. The Pala Executive Committee determined on its own that Britten’s father was white and not Pala, meaning that all members tracing their Pala ancestry solely to Britten as a great-great-grandparent went from 1/16 to 1/32 Pala blood and no longer qualified for membership. With that decision, more than 160 Pala members were disenrolled, an action that cut off per capita payments, as well as access to health care and all other tribal benefits. Tensions continue to run high on the reservation, with the disenrolled claiming the decision was made solely to prop up per capita payments, while members not affected respond that the disenrollment was an overdue resolution of a preexisting problem.

As for appeals, the Pala leadership took care of that by terminating what might have been a venue for the ousted members to seek judicial relief. In California, tribes may voluntarily settle disputes in the Intertribal Court of Southern California, a tribal “circuit court” providing a neutral forum for appeals of tribal decisions. The Pala Executive Committee voted to withdraw from that court before enacting the disenrollments, so the decision was never subject to review in that court.

The Pala enrollment case was closed before it even was ripe for hearing in that court.

Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians

In Northern California’s Madera County, the Chukchansi Indians operate Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, a popular and profitable operation conveniently located on a major gateway route to Yosemite National Park. While the Chukchansi per capita payments are small, they are supplemented by tribal payments covering utility and food bills, as well as academic tuition.

Chukchansi has reportedly disenrolled at least 400 members in the past five years, reducing the total membership to less than 1,000. The acrimony over the financial situation has grown so toxic that three separate factions are struggling for control of the tribe after a disputed election and continuing disenrollments.

Last year, then Tribal Council Chairman Reggie Lewis and his supporters voted to disenroll dozens of tribe members. Subsequently, Lewis lost his reelection to Morris Reid in December 2012, but he contested the results on the basis that Reid was ineligible to run. Later that same month, in a chaotic tribal council meeting, Lewis refused to seat the new members, announced that he would remain Chairman until a new election was held, and changed the locks on the tribal government offices. In February, a “tribal referendum” elected Council member Nancy Ayala as Chair and removed Lewis from the Council. Supporters of Reid broke into the tribal offices and refused to leave. Lewis’s supporters responded by cutting power to the building and throwing a smoldering log and bear spray inside to forcibly eject them. The Madera County Sheriff observed the activity but did not act, citing a lack of jurisdiction. On the following day, the scene erupted into a violent melee, prompting the Sheriff to intervene along with more than 100 officers from various law enforcement agencies.

Since then, the Tribe has remained in turmoil. In March, the casino’s bank froze the Tribe’s gaming revenue funds due to an inability to determine rightful control over the account, and in the process halted bond payments and put the Tribe in danger of default on its $300 million obligation to lenders. In May, the BIA rejected grant proposals filed by Reid on the basis that he was not a rightful representative of the Chukchansi Tribal Council. An April tribal referendum reinstated Lewis and removed Ayala. However, in June, the BIA administratively recognized Ayala as Chairperson and Lewis as Vice Chairman, although the two continued to wage their very public dispute. Ayala sought an injunction in federal court to cut off Lewis’s access to the bank account and force the bank to continue to pay bondholders, but the federal judge did not intervene, citing a lack of jurisdiction over the matter. It remains to be seen how the painful dispute will end.

In the latest development, a Madera County Judge cited a specific tribal waiver of sovereign immunity and ordered the County Sheriff to enter the Chukchansi casino and physically remove cash to pay a former casino manager owed $725,000 under a settlement of a suit resulting from his termination before his contract expired. Ayala’s faction has vowed to fight the “till tap,” and no per capita payments are currently being distributed.

Nooksack Indian Tribe

In Washington State, the 2,000-member Nooksack Indian Tribe is near the Canadian border, almost 100 miles north of Seattle. In February, six of the eight members of the Tribal Council, including the Chairman, voted to commence disenrollment proceedings against 306 Nooksack members, including the two tribal council members who did not vote in favor of the action.

The Nooksack disenrollees are descendants of a woman named Annie George. Tribal membership rules require that members either (1) trace ancestry to those appearing on a 1942 tribal census, or those who received allotments of tribal land, or (2) prove that they possess 1/4 Indian blood and any degree of Nooksack ancestry. George’s name did not appear on either list, and her descendants must go before the Tribal Council and present evidence of their claim. The disenrollees appealed the Tribal Council’s decision to the Nooksack Tribal Court, asking for an injunction to the disenrollment, but the Chief Judge denied the injunction citing the Tribe’s sovereign immunity from suit and deferring to the Tribal Council’s broad authority over membership matters.

Shortly after voting to disenroll the 306 members, the Council voted to initiate an election to amend the Nooksack Constitution to “close a loophole” and remove the second path to Nooksack membership. This change clearly would further obstruct the disenrollees’ claims. After the BIA approved the election, the two disenrolled Tribal Council members sought to enjoin the election in federal court, but the Judge declined to stop the election citing the lack of “applicable law” making it unlawful for the Nooksack Tribe to define its membership by race or ancestry. The Constitutional amendment went to a vote of the entire Nooksack membership, the outcome of which has not been announced as of this date.

© Copyright 2013 Dickinson Wright PLLC


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