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Nooksack Election Declared Invalid by Tribal Council

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BELLINGHAM, Wash. - A group of Nooksack tribal members have alleged that
their governing council has invalidated a legitimate tribal election and
have purposely excluded two candidates from appearing on the ballot of a
rescheduled election.

In the regularly scheduled March 27 council officer's election the tribe
voted to replace the four members of the current council. After a recount
three days later the tribal election board verified the signatures and some
tribal members have alleged that the BIA approved the results.

Nearly a week later the current tribal council invalidated the election and
scheduled a new election for May 15. Apparently on the grounds that
absentee ballots were not valid. The winners of the March 27 election
include Carmen Solomon, who won the vice-chairmanship; Sandra Joseph, the
treasurer's position; and Candace Kelley Roberts and incumbent Rick George
to general council spots.

After invalidating the election the current tribal council also
disqualified Solomon and defeated candidate George Bailey citing
inaccuracies in their biographies.

An opposing faction has filed an appeal to the BIA and tribal member Carmen
Solomon has subsequently filed a lawsuit in tribal court.

The opposing faction also claims that the current council acted outside
tribal law in their invalidation of the election.

A cross section of the opposing faction was interviewed for this article
and includes at least one member of the Nooksack Elections Board. The group
did not include the winners of the disputed election because of ongoing
litigation. Each of the interviewees asked that their identities not be
mentioned because of what they claim are fears of reprisals by the tribal
government.

Each person interviewed of the council opposition said that the council had
issued a gag order to the tribe and warned that tribal members who worked
for the tribe would lose their job if they spoke to the press.

One source, a Nooksack tribal member who was close to the election said the
reason for the discontent with the current council stemmed from the lack of
transparency that tribal members claim their council showed, particularly
relating to funds from the tribal casino. The source alleged the tribe had
never released quarterly earnings reports and said many tribal members do
not receive a per capita payment from casino profits.

Members of the opposing faction said that meetings were scheduled and
subsequently moved without prior notice to the general tribal membership.

"It was like they created a wall from the rest of the tribe," said one
source.

Another source went on to say that when numerous individuals from the
general membership tried to question the council they were told to submit
their requests in writing, none of which, maintained the source, were ever
answered.

When called on the issue, tribal administrator Patrick Check said that
because of ongoing litigation the tribe would only respond to Indian
Country Today questions in writing.

In the tribe's written response to several questions, they stated that the
election was invalidated by what they claim was absentee ballot fraud and
mismanagement by the Election Board and did not elaborate as to the
specific fraud.

"The Tribal Council is ultimately responsible to ensure that the tribal
community receives a fair election," said the tribe in a written statement.

The tribe also disputed the opposing faction's claim that the federal
government validated the results. According to a BIA spokesperson, the
Nooksack constitution does not require the BIA to validate election
results. However, members of the opposition insist that the BIA had signed
off on it and said that the BIA is currently holding the disputed ballots.

In regard to the claim that the council waited a week to lodge their
protest, the tribe wrote that the council does not need to protest the
results and only acted after "careful consideration of all the issues
involved."

As for the winning candidates who were declared ineligible to appear on the
May 15 ballot the tribe said that these candidates had misrepresented their
educational achievements in their voter statements and were disqualified on
these grounds.

The tribe also wrote that individual tribal members were free to speak to
the press and had not issued a general gag order on the tribe. They did
write that no tribal employees could speak on behalf of the tribal
government without the permission of the tribal council.

Additionally, the council claims that the final authority on elections does
not reside with the Election Board but with the tribal council.

When questioned about the absentee ballots, one member of the opposing
faction said that the absentee ballots were sent in by elders, many of whom
live in the Seattle area, about four hours driving time from the
reservation and could not have made the trip to vote and were therefore
given absentee ballots.

The member of the Election Board said only about 15 of these absentee
ballots were actually used in the March 27 election.

A complaint filed by the opposing faction is apparently not gaining any
traction at the local BIA offices where an investigation into the matter is
very unlikely. As is often the case with disputed elections, the BIA
pursues a hands-off policy citing tribal sovereignty.

Judy Joseph, the BIA superintendent for the Puget Sound agency said that
her office is precluded from taking any action by precedent of case law.

In their written statement, the tribal council said that the Election Board
has the initial responsibility, but the tribal council has the final say in
deciding whether an election is fair or not.