Feds order Nooksack Tribe to close its last remaining casino. It did so Friday

Northwood Casino ordered to shut down

The Nooksack Tribe's Northwood Casino near Lynden shut down at 6 p.m. on Friday and will remain closed until further notice.
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The Nooksack Tribe's Northwood Casino near Lynden shut down at 6 p.m. on Friday and will remain closed until further notice.

The Nooksack Indian Tribe closed its Northwood Casino Friday – one day after the National Indian Gaming Commission ordered it to immediately do so over alleged violations.

The casino closed at 6 p.m., according to its website, and will stay closed until further notice.

“We are sorry for any inconvenience and will keep you updated on this website and our Facebook page. Our Northwood staff looks forward to serving you soon! Thank you for your patience,” the announcement stated.

Nooksack Tribal Chairman Bob Kelly Jr. couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

The Northwood Casino, 9750 Northwood Road, north of Lynden, is the tribe’s last remaining casino. It closed the Nooksack River Casino in December 2015.

The federal commission issued the closure order Thursday, citing “numerous violations” of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, including that tribal gaming “must be conducted by federally recognized leadership.” The current tribal council isn’t recognized as a legitimate governing body by the Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The commission’s order was the latest blow in an ongoing legal battle over the tribe’s decision, under Kelly, in November 2016 to remove 289 people from the Nooksack membership rolls because, the tribal council said, those people didn’t have strong enough blood ties to the tribe and had been erroneously enrolled.

“We do not take lightly the issuance of notices of violation and closure orders against tribal gaming operations,” said Jonodev Chaudhuri, chairman for the National Indian Gaming Commission.

“We are taking this significant enforcement action only after a complete analysis of the unique circumstances involved, including a full review of the structure of the tribe’s governing and business bodies,” Chaudhuri said in a statement. “The violations set forth in the notice compromise the integrity of the Northwood Casino and the gaming industry as a whole....”

The tribe has 30 days to appeal the commission’s order.

The Northwood Casino, which opened in 2007, provides more than 100 jobs, according to its website. It has more than 350 slot machines, three dining outlets and a gift store.

0616 Northwood Casino
The National Indian Gaming Commission has ordered the Nooksack Indian Tribe to immediately close its Northwood Casino. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

The gaming commission’s allegations included that:

▪ the tribe failed to maintain its sole proprietary interest and responsibility for the conduct of any gaming activity – meaning, essentially, that the casino can no longer operate because the federal government doesn’t recognize the Nooksack leadership.

The Department of the Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs have said they won’t accept actions taken by the tribe after March 24, 2016, because no election was held to replace four expiring council seats, meaning decisions were made without a quorum and therefore weren’t legitimate – and that included the decision to push members out of the tribe.

The tribe held an election Jan. 21, but the BIA didn’t accept it because the nearly 300 who were ejected weren’t allowed to vote.

▪ the tribe failed to maintain and operate the casino in a manner that adequately protected the environment and public health and safety. This was based on Environmental Protection Agency’s orders that detailed deficiencies of the Safe Drinking Water Act that occurred at six water systems, including the one serving the Northwood Casino.

▪ the tribe didn’t conduct background checks and obtain gaming licenses for members of the Nooksack Business Corporation II, who are tribal council members and the primary management officials for the casino.

If the tribe doesn’t make corrections, the agency said it could be fined $50,276 a day for each violation.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Northwood 2007
A line of people were waiting outside the Northwood Casino when it opened on Nov. 15, 2007. Staff The Bellingham Herald file


Chairman Bob Kelly and his supporters on the Nooksack Tribal Council believe that 306 people facing loss of membership in the 2,000-person tribe based in Deming are descended from the late Annie George. Her descendants insist George, who died in 1949, was a Nooksack and that a mistake kept her name from the 1942 census the tribe uses to determine membership. They say they should not be stripped of their tribal identity and the valuable housing, medical and fishing rights benefits that go with it.

June 2017

The National Indian Gaming Commission, citing “numerous violations of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” June 15 ordered the Nooksack Indian Tribe to immediately close its Northwood Casino, its last remaining casino since the tribe shut its Nooksack River Casino in December 2015.

May 2017

A U.S. District Court judge dismissed the Nooksack Indian Tribe’s $13.7 million lawsuit against the federal government May 11, ruling the council that filed it wasn’t recognized as a legitimate governing body.

April 2017

Attorneys for the federal government asked U.S. District Court in Seattle in April to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the council as the “Kelly Faction” and characterizing its behavior as “abusive.”

The federal government steps in April 29 to provide health care services to the nearly 300 people who have been disenrolled by the Nooksack Indian Tribe.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development admonished the tribe in an April 4 letter against its most recent efforts to evict from tribal housing some of the people it had removed from Nooksack rolls.

March 2017

In a March 27 letter, the Department of Health & Human Services notified tribal council Chairman Bob Kelly that it intended to “reassume” medical services – taking them over from the tribe.

February 2017

The Nooksacks sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs for millions in state and federal funds they claim were being withheld over the council’s actions, and that the council said was needed for medical services, salmon restoration, affordable homes and other needs for tribal members.

The Nooksacks insisted the federal agencies’ decision interfered with the tribe’s right and ability to govern itself.

January 2017

Several people who face disenrollment from the Nooksack Indian Tribe file a complaint in federal court claiming tribal officials defrauded them and submitted false claims to the federal government.

BIA says the December 2016 primary election and the Jan. 21 general election are not legitimate.

November 2016

Tribe removes 289 people it believes had been erroneously enrolled in the tribe from the membership roll.

October 2016

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Lawrence Roberts writes Kelly that the council would not be recognized until the tribe holds a fair election under the rules of the tribe’s constitution. Kelly requests that Roberts withdraw his letter and acknowledge holdover status of the council members, writing “In the event that there are financial or other consequences to the Nooksack Tribe associated with your Letter, the U.S. government will be held accountable.”

Tribal council creates Nooksack Tribal Supreme Court and appoints Kelly chief justice of the court. The tribe gets a restraining order against the Northwest Intertribal Court System, which had 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.

September 2016

Nooksack Tribal Court of Appeals orders attorneys for the families facing disenrollment reinstated and allowed to practice in Nooksack Tribal Court until a review of the tribe’s actions. Court also orders the tribe’s police chief to pay $2,790.15 for attorney fees.

Nooksack Tribal Court of Appeals rules that members facing disenrollment who applied for protection could be protected from disenrollment action until a judge is appointed to preside over the case in the lower court.

July 2016

Nooksack Tribal Court of Appeals rules the tribe’s chief of police would be in contempt of court and could face up to $1,000 per day fines if he refuses to jail the court clerk until she resolved her contempt.

June 2016

Nooksack Tribal Court of Appeals orders Nooksack Tribal Court clerk to return paperwork filed by attorneys for those facing disenrollment or face jail.

March 2016

Tribal council left without a quorum as terms expire for vice-chairman Rick George, treasurer Agripina Smith, and council members Katherine Canete and Lona Johnson.

BIA says if legitimate elections are not held by March 31 it with “have no choice but to reassume the provision of Federal services.”

The tribe fires Nooksack Tribal Court Judge Susan Alexander, after she issues a ruling against the tribal council, and was drafting a decision on a request to compel tribal council elections that were supposed to have taken place in February and March.

February 2016

The Nooksack Tribal Council gives itself the ability to disbar attorneys from practicing in Nooksack Tribal Court, disbars attorneys representing the members facing disenrollment.

Four council posts are up for election, with a primary in February and a general election in March, but tribal elections are not held.

January 2016

Nooksack Tribal Court Court Judge Alexander denies tribal council’s request to prevent members facing disenrollment from voting in 2016 council elections.

December 2015

Tribal council files a counterclaim in a year-and-a-half-old lawsuit originally filed by members of the families facing disenrollment.

July 2015

Process to disenroll tribal members by phone on hold while the BIA regional director reviews the ordinance.

July 2015

BIA board of appeals rules September 2014 enrollment ordinance must be approved by the BIA regional director.

September 2014

Council approves enrollment ordinance that spells out a process that requires legal documentation of lineage.

June 2014

Tribal Court Chief Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis orders the tribal council to stop its latest effort to oust 306 tribe members.

MONTH? 2014

Secretary of the Interior decides the tribe’s disenrollment process is legal.

May 2014

Tribal council scheduled July disenrollment hearings before the tribal council.

March 2014

Nooksack Court of Appeals orders a halt to the process of removing people from tribal enrollment rosters until the tribal council could draw up an ordinance spelling out the procedures for stripping people of tribal membership. The ruling says the ordinance must also be approved by the BIA.

Members facing disenrollment since late 2012 allowed to vote in the tribe’s 2014 council elections.


Secretary of the Interior and BIA supervise an election in which Nooksack voters approve a change in the tribe’s constitution that makes it more difficult for people to enroll or re-enroll as members. Before the election, tribal membership was available to anyone who has at least one-fourth Indian blood, plus Nooksack ancestry “to any degree.”

Kelly and a majority of other council members agree that members of the Rabang, Rapada and Narte-Gladstone families are as members of a Canadian tribe who were wrongfully enrolled as Nooksacks in the mid-1980s and that their enrollments should be revoked.

Families facing disenrollment sue in tribal court, saying the disenrollment process violates the Nooksack Constitution.


Tribal council learns the BIA does not have files proving ancestry for more than 300 enrolled Nooksack tribal members and the council starts the process to disenroll 306 members.


BIA approves tribal membership ordinance approved disenrollment process.


Tribal membership ordinance approved disenrollment process.


Kelly and his supporters say 306 members of a Canadian tribe were wrongfully enrolled as Nooksacks.


Nooksack tribe ceded one-acre reservation after it received federal recognition status from the United States government.


Tribal census used to determine Nooksack tribal membership taken.


Attempts made to move the Nooksacks to the reservation fail and tribal members allowed to remain in the Nooksack Valley


The Nooksack tribe is party to the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, in which tribes exchanged land for recognition of fishing, hunting and gathering rights. The tribe is not granted a reservation and was expected to move to the Lummi Reservation, but few did.

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