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 Feb. 4 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 on social media that 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.
On Feb. 3, 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 elders, are 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 its policies prohibit non-members from living in tribal housing, and that the homes they occupy are needed for tribal members.
“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 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 that it can’t fill vacancies, at least as of 2019, for tribal housing because applicants can’t meet requirements, like passing a drug screening test. There’s no suggestion that former tribal members who want to stay in their homes, he said, have likewise been accused of any other violations, like 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 insert itself into a disagreement involving the internal affairs of a U.S. tribal nation — apparently a first for the U.N. — comes after years of controversy since the tribe ejected more than 300 members from the tribe. The disenrollments have been criticized by the federal government, and Galanda said tribal leaders have ignored tribal court orders to stop the disenrollments.
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 help.
The Nooksack Tribe criticized the U.N., saying it had “failed to conduct even the most cursory investigation,” didn’t contact the tribe before releasing its statement and was misled by a “Seattle attorney.”
The tribe has denied any allegation of wrongdoing throughout and said the federal government was improperly meddling in tribal affairs.
Galanda, whose law firm is based in Seattle, has been fighting the tribe’s disenrollments and eviction plans for years. Galanda, Round Valley Indian Tribes of California, filed complaints with the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 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 (BIA) said the tribe had not violated any of its own policies or the Indian Civil Rights Act in trying to evict some of the former 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 Feb. 4 statement.
Still, Galanda said the BIA didn’t address the main thrust of his allegations — that most of those facing eviction are rightful owners of 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 said his clients, at least 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.
Lead photo: Two Nooksack tribal citizens who were disenrolled and are now facing eviction encounter Nooksack police while entering a tribal court on Sept. 12, 2019. Photo courtesy of Galanda Broadman law firm
This story 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.