A Nooksack woman facing eviction from her home on tribal land was given a few weeks’ reprieve by a Nooksack Tribal Court judge Wednesday, but could still face a fight to stay there.
While Margretty Rabang was inside the court fighting eviction without an attorney, about 30 people gathered nearby at the railroad tracks where First Street meets Deming Road in Deming.
Most of those present were members of three families who have been facing disenrollment from the tribe since late 2012, who call themselves the Nooksack 306. Others there were supporters.
The group, which argued Rabang should be allowed to use a lawyer of her choosing, would have gathered closer to the court building, but four officers from Nooksack Tribal Police Department, including Chief Rory Gilliland, stood at the tracks behind yellow cones and told them they were not allowed any closer.
No one was to be let in court unless they were approved advocates or people with court dates, Gilliland said to those gathered at the tracks.
The supporters sang, played drums, and made emotional appeals to the officers, reminding them they were all related, and asking whether they thought Rabang would get a fair hearing without an attorney.
How is it going to be fair if she has no attorney in there, and they have other attorneys in there?
Deborah Alexander, advocating for fair treatment for her sister
Attorneys Gabe Galanda and Ryan Dreveskracht, who showed up hoping to represent Rabang in her case, spoke with the officers but were told they were not approved by the court to represent her.
“My sister deserves representation!” an emotional Deborah Alexander told the officers. “How is it going to be fair if she has no attorney in there, and they have other attorneys in there?”
“She’ll have appeal rights. She can appeal it,” Gilliland said.
“Are you kidding me?” Alexander asked.
Galanda and Dreveskracht asked how she was supposed to appeal if the tribe wasn’t currently recognizing its own court of appeals.
Galanda and Dreveskracht have represented members facing disenrollment from the tribe for years, but in February Nooksack Tribal Council members gave themselves the authority to approve or disbar attorneys in tribal court, and then disbarred Galanda and Dreveskracht.
The two attorneys have been trying to get a fair hearing to argue against the action ever since. The 306 have had to represent themselves in court in the meantime, or try to get other counsel approved.
In October, tribal council created a Nooksack Tribal Supreme Court, and according to court filings appointed Chairman Bob Kelly chief justice of the court.
Around the same time, the tribe got a restraining order against the Northwest Intertribal Court System, which has provided a three-judge panel to make up the Nooksack Tribal Court of Appeals in recent years. The tribe contends the judges’ terms expired back in mid-2015.
Then, the Bureau of Indian Affairs said in mid-October it will not recognize any actions taken by the Nooksack Indian Tribe after late March 2016, because tribal council hasn’t had a quorum since then.
The BIA said the “exceedingly rare” situation had to do with the fact that elections to fill four Nooksack Tribal Council positions were supposed to be held in February and March, as required by the Nooksack constitution and bylaws, but weren’t.
The BIA also said it would continue to recognize the appeals court’s jurisdiction.
I told them what they were doing was wrong. I said I hope you guys can sleep good at night. I’m raising two grandchildren, a 1- and a 3-year-old.
Margretty Rabang, on what she said during an eviction hearing in Nooksack Tribal Court
Despite the BIA’s Oct. 17 letter, the tribe held a referendum election on Nov. 4, asking voters if the tribe should immediately disenroll the 306 “for failure to provide proper evidence establishing their claim for enrollment.” Of the 229 ballots, 209 said yes, according to the tribe’s Facebook page.
Members facing disenrollment from the roughly 2,000-person tribe said they were not allowed to vote.
Starting at 10 a.m. Thursday, those up for disenrollment are supposed to start calling in to the council, for 10-minute hearings by phone, after which they will likely be told they are disenrolled.
The 306 contend that the hearings are currently prevented by orders of the court, and the council lacks a quorum to take action.
Rabang and her siblings, including Alexander and Robert Gladstone, who were both there to show support, were disenrolled from the tribe earlier this year. They said they were told they could not be dually enrolled in two tribes, so they asked to be disenrolled from a tribe in Alaska and remain Nooksack. However, they were disenrolled from Nooksack.
It appears that disenrollment was the basis of the eviction notice sent to Rabang. She said she should already own her home under a mutual help homeownership program run by the tribe’s housing authority with assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She’s lived there for 22 years and had previously lived in another house in Everson under the same program for 10 years.
“I told them what they were doing was wrong. I said I hope you guys can sleep good at night. I’m raising two grandchildren, a 1- and a 3-year-old. I hope you guys can sleep tonight,” Rabang said.
Rabang said she was given a few weeks to find a new attorney, which has to be approved by the court, and then might have a new hearing in mid-December.