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Chris Aadland
Indian Country Today and Underscore.news

The Nooksack Tribe is demanding the United Nations retract its unusual call for the U.S. government to halt the looming evictions of former tribal citizens from federally subsidized tribal housing, saying the U.N. statement was “riddled with misinformation.”

The tribe said in a statement released Friday that the U.N. relied on “outrageous and disproved allegations” in urging the United States to prevent the tribe’s planned evictions of 63 people in 21 families from housing on tribal trust lands over concerns they would violate human rights.

“Your statement to the United States government was riddled with inaccuracies, falsehoods and outright lies that you accepted on face value without a shred of proof,” the tribe said in the statement. “You cannot purport to speak for marginalized or Indigenous people yet try to steamroll the rights and sovereignty of an Indigenous nation.”

Attorney Gabe Galanda, who is representing those facing eviction, said the tribe’s response to the U.N.’s appeal was itself full of misinformation and an attempt to minimize the “magnitude” of the U.N.’s involvement.

“This is an authoritarian regime and they have now been called out as such and they simply don’t like it,” he said. “They have now been exposed to the world.”

The families maintain they were improperly disenrolled from the tribe in recent years as part of a power grab by tribal leaders.

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Disenrolled Nooksack citizens face eviction

On Thursday, human rights monitors with the U.N.’s Human Rights Council called on the U.S. government to take steps to prevent the tribe from evicting the families, saying many of those who could lose their homes have lived in them for years, are elderly, sick or have a disability that would make it challenging to find new housing, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its response, the tribe said tribal policies prohibit non-members from living in tribal housing, and that the homes they occupy are needed for tribal citizens.

“Like most governments, we don’t have extra housing for non-citizens,” Nooksack Chairman Ross Cline Sr. said in the statement. “We have homeless people, including elders, who need a place to live and we need those who aren’t Nooksack to move … We believe that sufficient time has passed for them to make other arrangements. I encourage them to ignore their attorney’s ill-advised recommendation to fight eviction and to work to find new housing.”

Galanda said that the tribe’s claim that it has a list of 60 families on a waiting list for housing is undercut by its own reports to the federal government saying that it can’t fill vacancies, at least as of 2019, because applicants can’t meet requirements such as passing a drug-screening test. There’s no suggestion that former tribal citizens who want to stay in their homes have been accused of any violations such as possessing drugs or lack of maintenance, other than not being an enrolled member.

“All they want is quiet enjoyment of their homes,” he said.

The U.N. decision to get involved in a disagreement involving the internal affairs of a U.S. tribal nation – apparently a first for the U.N. – comes after years of controversy following the tribe's decision to eject more than 300 from the tribe.

The dis-enrollment has been criticized by the U.S. government, and Galanda said tribal leaders have ignored tribal court orders to stop the dis-enrollments.

At the same time, Galanda said, judges who had previously ruled in favor of his clients have been fired and that the only attorneys the tribe will license to practice in its courts are employed by the tribe, making it impossible for those facing eviction to get fair, impartial representation. 

The Nooksack Tribe sharply criticized the U.N. request, however, saying it had “failed to conduct even the most cursory investigation,” didn’t contact the tribe before releasing its statement and had been misled by a “Seattle attorney.”

The tribe has denied any allegations of wrongdoing throughout and has said the federal government was improperly meddling in tribal affairs.

Galanda, whose law firm is based in Seattle, has been fighting the tribe’s dis-enrollments and eviction plans for years. Galanda, Round Valley Indian Tribes of California, filed complaints with the federal Housing and Urban Development last fall, alleging the tribe was violating federal civil rights laws and housing policies.

HUD, which helped develop and subsidize the homes in question, then asked the Department of Interior to investigate the matter.

Separately this week, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs said the tribe had not violated any of its own policies or the Indian Civil Rights Act in trying to evict some of the fromer Nooksack citizens.

The BIA also said some of the allegations that had been raised were “beyond the scope” of its investigation. The tribe shared a copy of the letter the BIA sent to the tribe in its Friday statement.

Still, Galanda said the BIA didn’t address the main thrust of his allegations – that most of those facing eviction are rightful owners to the homes through completed lease-to-own agreements. He has asked HUD and the Internal Revenue Service to investigate for violations of HUD policies. 

While he the handful of families facing imminent eviction don’t have a sense of when the tribe may restart its eviction processes, they’re expecting it.

“We assume it’s only a question of time,” Galanda said. 

The article is co-published by Underscore.news and Indian Country Today, a news partnership that covers Indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest. Funding is provided in part by Meyer Memorial Trust.

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