Nooksack’s Michelle Roberts Submits Open Letter to Jewell & Washburn

Michelle Roberts, Nooksack Tribal Councilperson

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.”

RELATED: Cedarville Shooter Was Under FBI Probe Over Missing $50,000 in Federal Tribal Grants

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.

RELATED: Fighting Disenrollment: The Nooksack 306

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.

RELATED: Nooksack Indian Tribe in Disenrollment Fight

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.


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StarMtn's picture
Submitted by StarMtn on
Ms Roberts is correct and makes many good points. In the Cedarville case, Cherie Lash Rhoades "is under investigation". She has not been found to have embezzled any amount of money and the auditor's report merely stated that the proper checks and balances were not in place, and that makes it possible for funds to be mishandled. It did not say that they were. This is not an uncommon audit comment, especially with small tribes or organizations. And, the entire tribal council would have been responsible for this situation mentioned by the auditor, yet only Lash and her son were evicted. The problem is that Indians, on their Reservation, have no civil rights or due process. In PL 280 states (where the state has criminal and limited civil jurisdiction), they have no tribal court and federal court will not accept jurisdiction to hear their cases. That is not right. Illegal immigrants have more rights in this country than do American Indians. Uneducated and/or corrupt tribal councils have destroyed hundreds of lives and do so because they know that there is nowhere for their victims to turn. My guess is that the interim chair figured the same, when he initiated eviction proceedings and I bet that he had already promised their homes to someone else, thereby guaranteeing his election as chairman. White attorneys, one in particular, are making millions writing disenrollment ordinances for tribes, so that they can destroy any political opposition. And, the BIA's irresponsible response is the same "Our hands are tied. The general membership can vote out the council if they don't like them" So not true! The councils have the backing of the aforementioned nonIndian attorneys. Members are afraid to do anything and with good reason; they know they could be next! The BIA knows this too. One senator was not afraid to stand up for the Cherokee Freedman and got their grants frozen until they did the right thing. But, the Senators and Representatives of CA tribes enjoy huge contributions by casino tribes and are not willing to risk that. The BIA needs to untie their hands and request that Congress, who does have the authority to intervene, require the federal court to hear cases against tribal councils from Individual Indians. And, they need to require that tribes abide by the courts decisions. In cases where disenrollments are heard in tribal court, tribal councils have refused to follow the decision of their own court. I am so afraid that there will be more killings and violence if something isn't done. Yet the BIA does nothing unless sued, it seems. They have historically mismanaged money, not fulfilled their responsibilities and seem to have learned nothing, continuing to hide behind their bureaucracy while the violence escalates!

realnooksack36's picture
Submitted by realnooksack36 on
A real Nooksack can prove their lineage. The 306 cannot! If they have documentation proving their lineage they wouldn't have had to file 26 court proceedings all they would have to do is turn in their documentation proving they are Nooksack! As a born and raised Nooksack, I find this letter to be THREATNING!!!! Back in the 90's, During a council meeting, when our elders tried to disenroll them, the Nooksack 306 Surrounded the building, locked the doors, and pulled out guns and said "the council member that puts the motion to disenroll is going to be beat to death". So I as a tribal Member feel that the Rabangs/Rapada/Narte/Gladstones are trying to threaten our council!!! A true Nooksack doesn't need the media or Barack Obama to step in to prove their Nooksack Lineage. They Belong, but not in Nooksack!!!

realnooksack36's picture
Submitted by realnooksack36 on this is the article that talks about the Rabangs.

Jones Smith
Jones Smith
Submitted by Jones Smith on
This letter is a total Hy-jacking of this tragic event at Cederville Rancheria. The woman "Cherie L. Rhoades" was not being diss-enrolled from the tribe. All that was reported that she was being evicted. (I work for a tribal housing program...) Many tribes operate Housing Assistance programs and some own houses, or apartments units that are rented out to tribal members, and they have similar if not the same rules as renting in the non-Indian world. You don't pay your rent... you get evicted. We don't know if that is what truly happened here, so we should all not comment on this aspect, especially in light of the gravity of the situation. This characterization by Michelle Roberts is offensive to the memory of those who died, and should apologize for characterizing and using this tragedy for any means besides asking for prayers for the families of the deceased, and injured. There is no excuse for violence in a civil dispute, nothing can justify it period, if you suggest otherwise you are a monster.