Genocide: A Year In The Life of The Nooksack 306 By Nooksack Tribal Councilwoman Michelle Roberts
Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the date when disenrollment against my extended Nooksack family and I—known as the “Nooksack 306”— began. Since December 19, 2012, we have been persecuted in ways unimaginable anywhere else in America.
I live on the Nooksack Reservation, which is situated in Whatcom County, just east of Bellingham, in Northern Washington. I have 3/4 American Indian blood. I am also part Filipino-American by way of my grandfather. But because of my “Indipino” mixed blood, Nooksack Tribal Chairman Bob Kelly proclaimed in recent Secretarial election propaganda that my family and I have “weaker ties to Nooksack than the rest of us who are currently enrolled here.” (Incidentally, Bob Kelly has been adopted into our tribe; he has zero Nooksack blood.) In other words, we have been blatantly discriminated against, through tribally funded mailings and a federal taxpayer funded election. Meanwhile, federal officials, ranging from local BIA Superintendent Judy Joseph to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, have turned a blind eye to the illegal use of a federal election as a weapon of discrimination and genocide. That simply would not happen anywhere else but in Indian Country.
I have sued in Nooksack Tribal Court for racial discrimination under the Nooksack Constitution Equal Protection Clause and for misuse of tribal funds. But the Tribal Court Judge dismissed my claims, citing Bob Kelly and his Council faction’s ability to assert the Tribe’s sovereign immunity from any suit. That resulted from recent changes that they made to the Nooksack judicial code, to shield themselves from the very civil rights claims that they foresaw my family and I bringing against them. To date I have not been able obtain any legal recourse at all for violation of my civil rights. That simply would not happen anywhere else in America.
This summer, I was abruptly fired from my day job as the Human Resource Manager at the Nooksack River Casino, where I had worked for six years. I was fired simply because I was “an employee at will.” Twelve other members of my family have likewise lost their tribal jobs this year. In reality, I was fired by Bob Kelly and his Council faction because I have spoken out against the injustices that my family and I have suffered. I also cannot seek any legal recourse for blatant workplace retaliation. That simply would not happen anywhere else but in Indian Country.
During back-to-school season this fall, several of my nieces and nephews and other youth in our family from ages 3 to 19, were denied a $275 schools supply stipend by Bob Kelly and his Council faction—simply because they are among the 64 Nooksack children “proposed for disenrollment.” Our children were humiliated when they were denied financial aid for new backpacks and supplies, only to see all of their friends with new things for the first day of school. If that were not awful enough, this month our families’ holidays were dampened when Bob Kelly and his Council passed a Resolution that likewise denied us and our children $250 in Christmas support because we are “subject to pending disenrollment proceedings.” That simply would not happen anywhere else in America.
For the last year, I have not been notified of various Tribal Council meetings, despite my elected seat on the Council. At the meetings that Bob Kelly and his Council faction have told me about, he has ordered me to leave them due to unspecified “conflicts of interest” relating to the pending disenrollment process against me and my voting constituents. Or I have been allowed to participate by conference call, only to be muted by Bob Kelly from his off-reservation home when I spoken from my heart. That simply would not happen anywhere else but in Indian Country.
Over the last year, I have been unsuccessful in my formal pleas that Bob Kelly and Council his faction convene some form—any form—of public meeting of the Nooksack People. Still, there has not been a democratic meeting at Nooksack this entire year. That despite the clear requirements of our Constitution that the Chairman at least convene an open tribal meeting of the Nooksack People on the first Tuesday of every month. A government shutdown for an entire year – that simply would not anywhere else in America, not even Washington, DC.
On two occasions this year, nearly 200 enrolled members of my Tribe—some proposed for disenrollment, some not—have signed a petition for the recall Bob Kelly, due to his failure to honor the Nooksack Constitution or any notion of democratic government. On both occasions, he and his Council faction simply refused to allow the recall petitions to go to a vote of the Nooksack electorate. They suppressed the Nooksack People’s right to vote, twice. That simply would not happen anywhere else but in Indian Country.
Meanwhile, we possess federal probate records, expert opinions from two Ph.D. anthropologists, recorded sacred oral testimony from one of our deceased matriarchs, and even a 1996 legal opinion and enrollment record from the Tribe’s lawyer, all of which all makes clear that we are, and have always been, properly enrolled Nooksack. But we have no place to go with this proof. That is because over the course of the entire last year, Bob Kelly and his Council faction have deliberately denied my family and I—and really, our entire Nooksack Tribe—access to any political process, access to any electoral process, access to any judicial process, and access to any other forum where Indian democracy or due process might reign.
That simply would not happen anywhere else in America.
Michelle Roberts is an enrolled member of the Nooksack Tribe and an elected member of the Nooksack Tribal Council.