Nooksack Vote Shows Divide on Disenrollment Struggle

Mar 17, 2014

This past weekend’s election on the Nooksack reservation near Bellingham leaves an uncertain future for hundreds of its members.

The tribe is seeking to remove about 15 percent of its people.

As Liz Jones reports, this tribal disenrollment would be the largest in the state’s history.

Tribal members describe record turnout Saturday, as Nooksack voters weighed in on candidates for its governing council. More than 700 of the tribe’s 2,000 people voted.

At stake were four council seats, and a chance to alter the tribe’s course on disenrollment. Nooksack leaders have moved to cut 306 members from the tribe due to questions about their ancestry. It’s one of the many disenrollment struggles that have become increasingly common across Indian country.

On Saturday, George Adams lost a bid for chairman of the Nooksack Tribal Council. Adams had vowed to halt the disenrollments.

“My conclusion and it is obvious that it is not a mandate for them to go forward on this disenrollment. Our struggle is still on,” said Adams.

Incumbent chairman, Bob Kelly, was re-elected by a narrow margin. He and other current tribal officials declined to comment.

But in a previous statement, Kelly said it would be unfair to let people remain in the tribe without any proof. The issue has deeply divided the tribe for the past year, while the case remains pending in tribal court.

On Saturday, two people who oppose disenrollment were newly elected to the council. Yet the majority on council appears to still back the membership cuts.

Adams says his supporters are considering a challenge to some of the election results. And that the Nooksack families facing disenrollment plan to keep up their legal fight to remain a part of the tribe. I’m Liz Jones, reporting.

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