Secretary [Sally] Jewell, Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs [Kevin K.] Washburn:
In the wake of the Cedarville tragedy, will you now honor your trust responsibility to all American Indians to prevent such disenrollment-atrocities?
As the media has rightfully observed, “the shooting in Modoc County is the latest, and most chilling, example of tribal violence over power struggles and disenrollments.”
In December, Nooksack Tribal Secretary Rudy St. Germain and I wrote each of you, after you ignored a petition signed in October by 900 tribal members in Washington State, imploring your intercession in our disenrollment.
We asked you:
“What will it take for you to honor your trust responsibility? The threatened unconstitutional taking of Indian-owned homes? Further educational discrimination against Indian children? Tribal elders’ loss of health care or their resulting death? Violence amongst our people? We hope not. We hope you will do something, now.”
But you ignored that letter and our follow-up emails, too. You have not even given us the courtesy of a single response or acknowledgment.
Our family and tribal members have also been subject to abuse of process by others on our Tribal Council, racial slurs and taunting by our opponents, visits to our homes by tribal police at all hours of the night, and treatment like criminals by the tribal court and cops. Meanwhile, there has been almost no democratic process at Nooksack in well over a year; no General Council meetings; no public Tribal Council meetings. Recall petitions signed by hundreds of us have been thrown away. And the doors of the Tribal Court have been closed to us.
So we have worried about the dispute turning violent on our reservation. History teaches us that when democracy falters, when there is no due process, when free speech is stifled, people take matters into their own hands.
We have read about the Chuchanski “civil war” that resulted in a riot and stabbing, and about the protest at Berry Creek that was broken up by county cops with a flash-bang grenade. Yet you at Interior pick and choose whether to get involved, and when to get involved. You got involved with the Cherokee Freedman when you didn’t have to. You finally got involved at Chuckanski. But you have turned a blind eye and deaf ear to our situations and our pleas for help.
What now will it take for you or Congress to do something—anything? Another tragedy? More bloodshed?
We have presented you with proof of countless federal law violations, most recently IGRA, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in improper gaming per capita distributions. Last summer, a Secretarial election funded by federal taxpayers was carried out to cause our disenrollment. It was riddled with voting rights violations, which would not be allowed in any state or federal election. But you turn a blind eye and deaf ear to those violations of federal law as well. These concerns are not “internal to the tribe” or matters of “self-governance.” Those are just excuses.
And do not forget that tribal “disenrollment” is a creature of the federal government. It was foreign to Indian people until the 1930s, when the United States began “reorganizing” tribes and Interior began foisting boilerplate constitutions on tribes. Those constitutions include “disenrollment” provisions. Our traditions do not. There is no Nooksack or Coast Salish word for “disenrollment.” It is Frankenstein in Indian country that the United States has created, and now ignores.
Disenrollment is therefore your business. It is a federal concern.
This is our last communication to you; our last desperate plea for your help. This time we are copying the media in hope that they might get your attention, should you still choose to ignore us and to flout your trust responsibility and moral duty.
Michelle Roberts, Nooksack Tribal Councilperson