Plans to strip membership from roughly 300 members of the Nooksack Indian Tribe must wait until the disenrollment process has final federal approval, according to a tribal court judge.
In a hearing Monday afternoon, Feb. 23, Nooksack Tribal Court Judge pro tem Randy Doucet held with the court’s previous rulings: Until tribal council has final word from the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, they may not disenroll anyone, said lawyers for the affected members. A reporter was not allowed in the courtroom as only five people for each side were admitted.
The ruling came as a relief for members of three affected families, who call themselves the “Nooksack 306.”
Dozens of the 306 gathered outside the small tribal court building in Deming Monday afternoon, separated from the building by caution tape, cones, and a handful of tribal police officers. While waiting for news, they and their supporters prayed, sang songs and beat drums.
“I have faith that no matter what happens, Creator’s going to be watching over us,” said Arsenio Lopez III, who is facing disenrollment, while waiting outside of the court. “I never question my Nooksack blood. I have faith that justice will prevail.”
Within an hour, the Nooksack 306 had their answer as their lawyer Gabe Galanda walked out of the building, hand held high in the air with a big thumbs up and a smile on his face.
The hearing dealt in part with the group’s recent appeal of a decision by the Secretary of the Interior.
In mid-January, the tribe was notified the Secretary of the Interior had ruled a September 2014 tribal ordinance that details a disenrollment process is legal under the tribe’s constitution.
The ordinance in question was set up by Chairman Bob Kelly and his supporters on the tribal council. It spells out a process that requires each of the affected members to compile legal documentation of their lineage and schedule a time to have a 10-minute teleconference with the council.
The council attempted to start expelling members with a similar process in 2013, but the Nooksack Tribal Court issued an injunction as that process was not sent to the Interior Secretary for approval when it was first put in place.
Upon getting the Secretary’s approval of the process in January, the council started sending notices to affected elders informing them of “involuntary disenrollment meetings” starting March 4.
The 306 appealed the Secretary’s decision. Their lawyers Galanda and Ryan Dreveskracht argued that federal law dictates the Secretary’s decision is of no legal effect until the appeal has been decided through a federal administrative process.
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