Nooksack Tribes Seeks to Cut 15% of Members

May 22, 2013

The largest disenrollment of tribal members in Washington State is still moving forward, following a tribal court’s ruling this week. Leaders of the Nooksack Tribe near Bellingham want to cut ties with some 300 members, as Liz Jones reports.

One of the Nooksack members facing disenrollment is Moreno Peralta. His grandmother was full Nooksack, and he’s a quarter. He grew up hearing her stories about their Nooksack heritage.

"Being told my whole life that this is who we are and this is where we come from, and for them to take this way,  it would be a huge loss to my life." says Peralta.

If booted from the tribe, Peralta stands to lose rights to hunt and fish. He relied on that benefit for years a commercial fisherman.

But he says other members stand to lose a lot more. “Because they live on tribal land and they have housing. It’s detrimental for them and everyone I know up there is up in arms about it”.

In February, the Nooksack tribal council sent letters to 306 members, that’s about 15 percent of the tribe. The letters said they lacked proof of tribal ancestry and were subject to disenrollment.

But Peralta thinks racial issues are also a factor. He’s acting as spokesman for the affected families, who are all part Filipino.

Some members challenged the disenrollment in tribal court. But this week a Nooksack judge ruled that the council can proceed.

In a written statement, tribal chairman Bob Kelly rejected claims about racial bias. He also said it’s unfair to the Nooksack community to allow people to stay enrolled without proof of their lineage.

The council relies on a 1942 tribal census to see who qualifies for membership. Peralta, and many in his predicament, are descended from a Nooksack woman whose name was left off that list.

The tribe will hold a hearing for each member facing disenrollment, giving them a chance to prove their descendancy. Attorneys for the group say they’ll also continue to fight theses membership cuts in court. 

Copyright 2013 KUOW