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.

Appeals panel says Nooksack ouster must get federal approval

By JOHN STARK

THE BELLINGHAM HERALD March 18, 2014

 

BELLINGHAM – Three days after suffering a setback in tribal elections, the 306 people facing loss of membership in the Nooksack Indian Tribe won a legal victory that promises to slow down the tribal council’s effort to remove them.

But the appeals court’s action may not stop that removal.

In a ruling delivered to the tribal court office on Tuesday, March 18, a three-judge Nooksack Tribal Appeals Court panel ruled that the procedures for removing the 306 from tribal membership rolls must be approved by the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribal council, headed by Chairman Bob Kelly, had approved a resolution in August 2013 declaring that each individual facing loss of tribal membership would get a telephone hearing before the tribal council of no more than 10 minutes.

Attorneys representing the council had argued that the resolution did not need federal approval. Seattle attorney Gabe Galanda and his firm, representing the 306, convinced the court that the resolution was, in fact, an ordinance, and the tribal constitution requires Interior Department approval of ordinances.

Otherwise, the appeals court ruled that the short telephonic hearing was adequate protection of the affected tribal members’ legal right to due process before they are deprived of tribal membership, which members say has emotional as well as financial benefits. The judges’ ruling states that a more lengthy, in-person hearing would serve no purpose, because a member’s right to tribal status would hinge on documentary evidence of ancestry, not personal pleas.

The court ruled that the affected tribal members must have 21 days’ notice before their hearing, and they have a right to be represented by someone of their choice.

In an email, Galanda said it was significant that the appeals court ruling forces the Department of Interior to get involved. Until now, the threatened Nooksacks have been rebuffed in efforts to get the agency to weigh in on the membership controversy.

Galanda said he wasn’t sure whether the approval process would be handled in regional BIA offices, or whether it might be referred to Washington, D.C. He declined to guess how long the approval process might take, and whether there was any chance that the federal agency would deny the approval that the tribal council needs to get the membership ouster started.

In a Saturday, March 15, tribal council election, the 306 members and their allies managed to claim two of the four council seats on the ballot, but Kelly and another incumbent were re-elected, leaving the council with an apparent 5-2 majority in favor of the ouster of the 306. Kelly, the eighth member of the council, votes only when there is a tie, but he still plays a significant leadership role.

Kelly and council members who support the ouster have avoided making public statements outside tribal gatherings since the controversy began more than a year ago. Kelly did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Nooksack member Marie Witt, a strong Kelly supporter, said she understands why Kelly and the other council members are keeping quiet in public.

“We were raised to believe silence is a virtue,” Witt said.

As Witt sees it, Kelly’s reelection demonstrates that most Nooksacks support the effort to remove the members of the Rabang, Rapada and Narte-Gladstone families, who were admitted to membership in the 1980s. 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 and or on a 1942 tribal census, and those two criteria determine legal eligibility for membership.

Many other tribal members opposed the three families’ membership claims from the beginning, Witt said, because they believe the three families have much stronger ties to Canadian tribes.

“It (the ouster) is something we all wanted,’ Witt said. “People in the tribe have been pushing for this for many years.”

Witt, 23, said she has friends and relatives who are faced with loss of tribal membership, and she regrets that. But she is convinced that the original enrollment of the members of those three families was a mistake that strains tribal resources. Among other things, she said members of the families are getting a significant share of the money available for tribal members’ health care, and there isn’t enough money to provide for those she believes have a better claim to membership.

Witt said she admires Kelly’s willingness to take on such a hotly contested issue, and she said it is a mistake to think that Kelly is solely responsible for a membership purge that has the support of a majority of the council. She added that Kelly has done a lot to improve tribal government.

“He’s trying so hard to make our tribe better,” Witt said. “We’re putting more of our trust in him because he’s not trying to hide anything from us.”

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com . Read the Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

 

 

 

 

Review of tribal rolls divides Grand Ronde members

 

Housing, insurance and more at stake in enrollment dispute

Confederate Tribes of the Grand Ronde exhibit. / TIMOTHY J. GONZALEZ / Statesman Journal file

Confederate Tribes of the Grand Ronde exhibit. / TIMOTHY J. GONZALEZ / Statesman Journal file

By Peter Wong

Dec 14, 2013 Statesman Journal

A dispute over enrollment has divided members of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which operates Oregon’s largest tribal casino about 30 miles west of Salem.

Members who no longer are enrolled in the tribe will lose their shares of tribal income — currently $3,600 annually — plus access to tribal housing, health care and schools. The tribe has grown by almost 50 percent since it opened its casino nearly two decades ago, although growth has slowed.

Similar disputes are occurring elsewhere in the nation.

The review of tribal rolls, although long planned, has touched off acrimony among some tribal members. One has gone to tribal court in an effort to block it.

The tribal government said an audit of enrollment is part of the tribe’s 2010 strategic plan. Members recommended for removal from the tribal rolls have to go through four steps, including appeals to the tribal court and its court of appeals, before any decision is final.

A tribal spokeswoman said the current enrollment is about 5,200, up from 3,500 in 1995.

“There is a procedure in place for affected individuals to work through the process and they have been informed about it,” Siobhan Taylor, the spokeswoman, said in a statement.

“Our enrollment department is working to the very best of their ability to help all those involved. Our purpose is to help tribal members clarify their records and strengthen the Grand Ronde family tree for future generations.”

Taylor said there was a previous review of the roll, the origins of which date to 1984, the year after the tribe re-established federal recognition.

“Over the years our tribal membership, through constitutional amendments, has consistently pushed for tightening our membership requirements,” Taylor said in an earlier statement.

The tribal council moved a few months ago to drop 13 members from enrollment, but referred the cases of 17 others back to a committee reviewing the roll.

“There’s potential that people might not even be Native Americans, but yet we spend our money every day on these people until we choose to correct this roll,” Reyn Leno, the tribal chairman, was quoted as saying in the Smoke Signals community newspaper after the council action in August.

 

Read the full story here Statesman Journal

 

Maidu protesters say dispute is over membership

Some of the tribal members and supporting members who barricaded themselves inside the Berry Creek Rancheria tribal headquarters last Thursday to protest the threat of being disenrolled from the Tyme Maidu Tribe are pictured in this photo taken on Monday.(Mary Weston/Staff Photo)

Some of the tribal members and supporting members who barricaded themselves inside the Berry Creek Rancheria tribal headquarters last Thursday to protest the threat of being disenrolled from the Tyme Maidu Tribe are pictured in this photo taken on Monday.(Mary Weston/Staff Photo)

The Tyme Maidu Tribe of California is preparing to remove more than 70 people from the rolls, according to news reports.
 
By MARY WESTON-Staff Writer
chicoer.com Posted:   05/22/2013

OROVILLE — It’s the same story heard across California in Indian gaming country — family against family with complex claims about the blood lineage of tribal members. Blood lineage determines who gets to be in the tribe and who gets the money.

Last Thursday, about 20 people were arrested after an 11-hour protest with members of the Tyme Maidu Tribe. Protesters say they were being threatened with disenrollments when they barricaded themselves inside Berry Creek Rancheria headquarters.

On Monday, about eight of the protesters and their supporters told their story.

The people who protested said they are descendants of founding members and have the documents to prove it.

They say their lineage goes back to the person given the Berry Creek Rancheria property, a man named Dick Harry.

The protesters were only held for a few hours in a building near juvenile hall, said Charlene Delagarza.

Delagarza, who was arrested, said they were protesting peacefully.

“We were standing for our identity and our heritage,” Delagarza said.

Marlin Bone-Cason, 20, said he and some of his relatives were at tribal offices supporting the protesters when they were attacked by angry tribal members who held him down and beat him. He said they cracked a relative in the head with an iron bar around 10:30 a.m. last Thursday.

Robert Wagner, 35, said the tribal members have continually been violent toward his family members, including his pregnant sister.

William Grigsby said he and others went to file charges against the people who have assaulted members of their family, but he doesn’t think anyone is listening to their side of the story. He said the tribal members who want to kick out his family have a majority in the tribe.

Grigsby said if he is cut from tribal rolls, he would lose his house where he, his wife and their children live.

Delagarza said the protesters were held for a few hours near Butte County Juvenile Hall last Thursday and released with various charges of trespassing and obstructing police officers.

A vote on the protesters’ disenrollment is still being determined.

Delagarza said they had not vandalized the tribal offices as was claimed, which are their offices, too. They had keys to enter the building legally, she said.

Goodie Mix, a spokesperson for the Berry Creek Rancheria Tribal Council, referred questions to a tribal attorney who, she said will be able to talk with the Mercury-Register later this week.

She said the dispute has to do with one family and a question of that family’s lineage.

Staff writer Mary Weston can be reached at 533-4415 or mweston@orovillemr.com.