It’s anyone’s guess how long nearly 300 people facing disenrollment from the Nooksack Indian Tribe will remain members, but it appears likely a recent federal decision has given them more time.
The three affected families, who call themselves the “Nooksack 306,” received news Monday, July 13, that a September 2014 enrollment ordinance would need to go back to the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional director for approval.
The ordinance in question was set up by Chairman Bob Kelly and his supporters on the tribal council. It spells out a process that would require 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, after which their status would be determined.
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.
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The recent decision by the BIA board of appeals came down late last week, a few months after the 306 had appealed a Secretary of the Interior decision that the tribe’s newly inked disenrollment process was legal.
The board did not weigh in on the merits of the ordinance. The decision simply outlined why the appeals board had authority to hear the appeal (the tribe questioned whether the board did), vacated the decision, and told the regional director to consider the appeal.
The BIA review of the ordinance is required by Nooksack’s constitution, not by any federal or state law. However, the Nooksack constitution does not lay out the process for the review, so the bureau is following processes laid out in other tribes’ constitutions, according to the decision.
The 306 contend that in the decision, the judges acknowledged their position that the ordinance targets them and rejected the tribe’s argument that the 306 lacked standing to challenge approval of the ordinance, according to a statement issued Monday afternoon.
“We are gratified that the courts clearly see the grave injustice that we have faced since 2013, and are holding tribal and federal officials accountable under applicable laws and due process standards,” the 306 statement reads. “We thank all of our allies throughout the world for standing with us. We belong, always and forever.”
While the review process is completed at the BIA, the tribe is not allowed to start the disenrollment process under a current order from Nooksack Tribal Court.
In February, Nooksack Tribal Court Judge pro tem Randy Doucet held with the court’s previous rulings: Until tribal council has final word from the Interior Secretary, they may not disenroll anyone.
Kelly could not be reached for comment.