A family facing eviction from their home on tribal trust land may not be kicked out as planned just days after Christmas, after a Whatcom County judge agreed that the state has jurisdiction in the case.
On Wednesday, Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Deborra Garrett signed a temporary restraining order preventing Nooksack Indian Tribe police from removing Margretty Rabang and her family from their home, court documents show. A hearing is set for Jan. 13.
Margretty Rabang lives with her husband, Robert Rabang, daughter Rachel Rabang, and her 1- and 3-year-old grandsons at their home in a development off Rutsatz Road.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
The house is part of a lease-to-own mutual help homeownership program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and run locally by the Nooksack Indian Housing Authority.
Rabang and her siblings were disenrolled from the tribe earlier this year. They said they were told they could not be dually enrolled in two tribes, and voluntarily asked to be disenrolled from a tribe in Alaska, but they were still disenrolled from Nooksack.
Margretty Rabang was issued an eviction notice and later appeared without an attorney at an eviction hearing Nov. 9, where she was granted a few more weeks to find legal counsel.
She wanted Seattle attorney Gabe Galanda and others from his firm Galanda Broadman to represent her, but the tribal council disbarred Galanda from practicing at Nooksack earlier this year. That prevented him from continuing to represent Rabang and roughly 300 people up for disenrollment in court cases against the tribe. Galanda’s status was later restored by the tribe’s appeals court, but the council claims the appeals court order is invalid.
In December, Margretty Rabang again appeared without approved counsel.
In a screenshot transcript of court proceedings posted on Facebook, Rabang explains that she hasn’t been able to get a lawyer “because nobody wants to work with the Nooksack Indian Tribe,” but that she got in touch with the Northwest Justice Project, which would need more time to get her help.
Nooksack Tribal Court Chief Judge Raymond Dodge asks if the matter should be continued to January.
“I would like to. I mean, this is the holiday season,” Rabang says. “I don’t want to be stressed out. I got these two babies. You know they should be able to have Christmas in their own home.”
The tribe’s attorney objected to a continuance, and Dodge did not grant her request for a further delay in the case, according to court documents.
Dodge ordered Dec. 14 that the tribe’s housing authority be able to inspect the Rabang home for damages on Dec. 19 and ordered all members of the household be out of the property by 5 p.m. Dec. 28, court documents show.
In Wednesday’s order, Garrett agreed the state has jurisdiction based on state law and a case from 1996 called State v. Cooper. In that case, which happened at Nooksack, the Washington State Supreme Court decided that the state retains jurisdiction “over crimes committed by Indians on Indian lands” outside the boundaries of an established reservation.
While Rabang was getting the temporary restraining order in Bellingham on Wednesday, court documents from Nooksack Tribal Court were served at her home.
An employee of the tribe’s housing department said he showed up to inspect the home on Monday with a Nooksack police officer, but was confronted by Robert Rabang and three other men, and did not try to force his way into the home, according to Nooksack Tribal Court documents filed that same day.
The same day, the court found good cause to demand Margretty Rabang appear in tribal court Thursday morning at 9:30.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs said in October that it won’t recognize any actions by the tribal council since March, because the council lacks a quorum under the rules of the tribe’s constitution. It’s not clear if that extends to the hiring of Dodge, who was formerly the attorney representing the tribe in disenrollment cases.