SEATTLE — The Nooksack Indian Tribe is demanding a retraction from the United Nation High Commissioner after the UN issued a statement calling on the tribe to halt evictions of some disenrolled members from tribe land.
An investigation by the Bureau of Indian Affairs found the tribe followed their own procedures and process for removing tenants from tribal housing. BIA also found the tribe complied with Indian Civil Rights Act due process requirements for evicting eight tenants from low-income rental housing owned by the Nooksack.
The UN previously alleged the tribe was in the process of evicting 63 disenrolled Nooksack members living on tribal land. On Thursday, the UN had called on the United States to “halt” what they call “imminent forced evictions” of former Nooksack indigenous tribe members.
Federal intervention in indigenous matters is rare in the United States given the notion of tribal sovereignty. The constitution grants federally recognized Indian tribes the right to regulate internal affairs.
Thursday’s notice was prepared by three United Nations High Commissioners on Human Rights experts and, according to the UN, may be the first diplomatic action on record to address potential Indigenous human rights violations in the U.S.
In a statement, the tribe called the UN’s investigation “riddled with falsehoods,” and accused members of failing “to conduct even the most cursory investigation.”
According to the tribe, the UN did not contact them before issuing the statement.
The eight tenants facing eviction were notified they were disenrolled during the summer of 2021, according to a statement from the tribe. In October, the tenants were sent notices of termination. According to the BIA investigation, some tenants are awaiting dates for resolution or grievance hearings with the Nooksack Housing Director and Housing Committee, respectively.
“We have 60 Nooksack families on a waiting list for housing, and some are homeless,” said Nooksack Chairman Ross Cline Sr. “Like most governments, we don’t have extra housing for non-citizens. We have homeless people, including elders, who need a place to live and we need those who aren’t Nooksack to move. Under the rules, they don’t qualify for housing. We believe that sufficient time has passed for them to make other arrangements. I encourage them to ignore their attorney’s ill-advised recommendation to fight eviction and to work to find new housing. We cannot wait forever while our people need housing.”
The tribe alleged the UN was misled by a lawyer for some former Nooksack members, whose disenrollment process began in 2013. In total, over 300 citizens were disenrolled after leadership claimed that a Canadian ancestor from the 19th century wasn't a legal Nooksack; therefore her relatives aren't eligible to enroll in the tribe.
Santana Rabang refers to herself as a disenrolled member of the Nooksack Tribe and was a teenager when this process started nearly a decade ago. Rabang has lost her tribal benefits and so have the elders.
“They’re using the fact that our ancestral name wasn’t listed on a colonial document from 1942. That’s the main excuse that they’re using that we’re not Indigenous,” Rabang said.
The tribe claimed any of the disenrolled members could regain their citizenship at any time, providing they present proof of lineage to the tribe’s enrollment office.
The tribe placed blame with a lawyer for the group, who refer to themselves as the Nooksack 306, for misleading UN leaders about the situation.
The group's lawyer, Gabe Galanda, alleged the group represents rightful members of the Nooksack tribe.
“If the 306 don’t belong, there is nobody who is Nooksack that belongs. That’s what the powers that be are flirting with,” Galanda previously told KING 5.