Nooksack Tribe disenrollment proceedings placed on hold again

Members of Nooksack Tribe of Washington protest disenrollment. Photo from Facebook

More than 300 members of the Nooksack Tribe of Washington who are facing disenrollment received a reprieve last week in a case that has attracted nationwide attention.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the tribe's disenrollment ordinance over the objections of a group known as the Nooksack 306. The group's members are facing removal over claims that they do not meet membership criteria.

The Interior Board of Indian Appeals did not rule either way on the group's status within the tribe. But the BIA's approval of the ordinance was rescinded in a July 9 decision because the agency failed to consider appeals from the Nooksack 306.

"The judges acknowledged that BIA officials simply ignored our repeated written objections to the ordinance and requests for consultation dating back to October 2014, before rubber-stamping the ordinance in January 2015," Michelle Roberts, a spokesperson for the group, said on Monday.

The Nooksack 306 will now get another chance to fight the ordinance. And the BIA will remain involved in the process because the tribal constitution requires laws affecting membership to be reviewed and approved by the agency.

In the meantime, a tribal court injunction bars the tribe from moving forward with disenrollment proceedings. The process is controversial because it only allows each person 10 minutes, over the telephone, to explain why he or she should remain enrolled.

Tribes retain an inherent right to develop membership standards. But the National Native American Bar Association passed a resolution in April, warning that some tribes are removing people "without equal protection at law or due process of law, or any effective remedy for the violation of such rights."

As a result, NNABA said it was "immoral and unethical" for "any lawyer" to help tribes remove people from their rolls without an adequate process to address the rights of the individuals affected.

The organization followed up with its first-ever ethics opinion in June. The opinion offers context and guidance to lawyers and advocates who are engaged in disenrollment proceedings.

"NNABA supports the administration of justice in American indigenous communities, which we believe must extend to protect individuals’ human rights to identity, culture and citizenship, as recognized in tribal, federal and international law,” said NNABA President Linda Benally said in a press release.

The enrollment ordinance at issue in the dispute restricts Nooksack membership to descendants of people who received allotments and to those whose ancestors appeared on a 1942 census. Previously, a person only had to prove they had Nooksack blood to any degree and one-fourth Indian blood to qualify for membership.

The Nooksack 306 primarily descend from Annie George, whose name does not appear on the census. Family members say she was full-blooded Nooksack so they contend they meet the old membership standard.

Get the Story:
Nooksack 306 win further delay of disenrollment (The Bellingham Herald 7/14)

Interior Board of Indian Appeals Decision:
Two Hundred and Seventy-One Enrolled Nooksak Indians v. Northwest Regional Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs (July 9, 2015)

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