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Nooksack chairman vows to continue disenrollments in wake of contested election

Native American lawyer Gabriel Galanda, center, listens to Nooksack members talk about disenrollment.
Native American lawyer Gabriel Galanda, center, listens to Nooksack members talk about disenrollment. Seattle Times

Nooksack tribal chairman Bob Kelly said he plans to start a new round of disenrollment hearings this week after an election that seemed to favor incumbents but was clouded by allegations of fraud.

Kelly and his council allies have been trying for five years to kick roughly 300 members out of the tribe, launching a divisive dispute about lineage and power that has gotten national attention, sparked federal intervention and raised broader questions about tribal disenrollment nationwide.

Last weekend’s tribal-council election was in part a referendum on disenrollment. The four incumbents said they favor purging the tribal rolls, while their challengers oppose doing so.

Preliminary results from the long-awaited election show victory for the four incumbents – but allegations of fraud and irregularities already cloud the outcome.

The four challengers have filed a protest with the tribe’s election board and will submit another one to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to their attorney, Gabriel Galanda, who also represents those facing disenrollment.

The candidates allege multiple irregularities, including a change of rules lending itself to ballot-stuffing, and bribery by offering individual payouts to members if the incumbents won.

At first, all ballots were supposed to be mailed back to the election board. Then, the board said that it would accept hand-delivered ballots. The challengers also allege officials were using tribal cars to drive voters to get ballots and turn them in.

“What’s to say you’re not stuffing the ballot box?” Galanda asked.

Kelly said the charges were an attempt to shift the conversation from their inability to prove Nooksack lineage as required for membership.

“All of their allegations are absurd and not true,” Kelly wrote in an email. “At this point we have no reason to believe that they are Native Americans and we will proceed with a second round of disenrollment hearings as soon as the election is certified by the election board later this week.”

According to an agreement between the tribe and the federal government, however, the BIA must approve election results for the Nooksack government to be considered legitimate.

The Nooksack saga shows no signs of ending soon. Even with results of this election in contention, the tribe this week is supposed to start the next election process. Kelly is up for re-election.

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