Robert Rabang Sr. has been a member of the Nooksack Tribe in Washington state for nearly 40 years – but about six years ago he was told he would be evicted from his home on land run by the tribe.
What hurt the 77-year-old the most was the attack on his family history.
Six years later, he and three other family members are still at risk of being evicted from their homes surrounded by cascading mountains and vast land.
For his granddaughter, Santana Rabang, hearing him tell his story earlier this month was the first time she had seen him cry. She said all she wanted to do was take her grandfather’s pain away.
“It was really difficult for me because my grandfather is a pillar in our family,” she said. When I saw my grandfather break down and cry like that, I broke down and cried myself. It was hard for me because when I left that day, I felt like I was carrying my grandfather’s pain, his sister’s and his brother’s.
Rabang’s family members are among 63 people in 21 tribal homes facing eviction by the Nooksack Tribal Council, the tribe’s governing body elected by tribal members. The council alleges that the tribesmen are no longer eligible for their homes because they are deregistered and cannot prove their lineage.
The deportation plan highlights concerns about the federal government’s responsibility to protect civil rights and whether it is interfering with Native American tribal sovereignty. The US Constitution grants tribes the right to regulate internal affairs. However, various federal agencies have urged and called on the tribe to delay eviction plans. Tribal members began receiving eviction notices in December last year, but others were stranded due to extreme weather conditions in the area.
Only nine tribal households have received notices, with Rabang’s family being one of them, which includes his 79-year-old brother Michael Rabang, his 80-year-old brother Francisco Rabang and his 74-year-old sister Norma Aldredge. Tribal leaders have announced that the eviction plan will resume later this month.
“It’s a direct attack on who I am and how I was raised,” Rabang Sr.’s granddaughter, Santana, told CNN. “When you say my grandfather is not Nooksack, you are saying his mother was not Nooksack and everyone before him. It’s a real stab in the heart. »
Gabe Galanda is an Indigenous rights lawyer advising the “Nooksack 63” who are all facing evictions. He represented tribal members facing eviction since 2013, but was then internally barred from representing them by the tribal council in 2016 due to lack of a tribal business license. Galanda said that after applying for a tribal business license, he was told that his privilege to practice law specifically in Nooksack had been revoked. He told CNN that the tribal council “ignores its own laws and proceeds as it wishes.”
The tribesmen are considering eviction without due process, especially after being denied the right to counsel guaranteed by the Nooksack Act and the federal Indian Civil Rights Act, according to Galanda.
“I basically practice law in the court of public opinion and in the diplomatic courts because these politicians have incinerated the tribe, incinerated democracy, violated due process, violated human rights and won’t let me help these people to save themselves from deportation,” Galanda told CNN. “They have no chance of getting justice.”
In addition to possibly losing their homes, the 63 tribal members are also already losing tribal benefits, including health services, educational assistance and financial allowances.
CNN has repeatedly reached out to the Nooksack Tribal Council asking for comment on the planned evictions.
In the past, the council said that more than 200 members had not properly followed citizenship rules and were therefore not citizens of Nooksack. They said these members did not bring their “lineage proof to the registration office”, but they could re-register as citizens at any time.
In a recent press release, Tribal Council Chairman Roswell Cline said, “We encourage anyone who is not qualified to register to move on, just as we did after unregistering he six years ago. The Nooksack Tribe will not be distracted or deterred by those who oppose our sovereignty.
Earlier this month, United Nations human rights experts called on the United States to halt planned deportations over possible civil rights violations. UN experts also feared that those facing deportation were being denied the opportunity to enjoy their own culture and use their own language in community with others.
“We call on the U.S. government to uphold the right to adequate housing…and to ensure it meets its international obligations, including with respect to the rights of Indigenous peoples,” the experts said in a statement. hurry.
In a statement, the Tribal Council said the UN press release was “riddled with inaccuracies” and “lies” and that the UN had failed to contact the tribe.
The UN is also concerned that the evictions will disproportionately affect the elderly, women and children, who are “some of the vulnerable people during the Covid-19 pandemic”.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) have also urged the Nooksack Indian Tribe to delay their eviction plans.
Since last year, HUD has sent several letters to the tribe and directed the BIA to investigate potential violations of the Indian Civil Rights Act and Bureau of Indian Affairs requirements.
Last December, HUD’s Office of Northwest Native American Programs (NwONAP) sent the Nooksack Tribe a letter advising them to delay any pending or planned deportations until the BIA completes its investigation into the violations. of the Indian Civil Rights Act.
“The BIA respects tribal sovereignty and supports tribal self-determination,” the BIA told CNN. “As a result, we seek to work closely with our tribal partners to protect the rights of tribes and individuals.”
The BIA’s investigation only focused on the nine of the 63 tribal members who received eviction notices and whether their planned evictions were carried out in accordance with the terms of the tenancy agreements and the procedures of the Nooksack Indian Housing Authority. . The investigation concluded earlier this month and found no violations.
“HUD strives to provide information about housing resources to families, so they are aware of potential options for keeping them in stable housing. HUD is working closely with the Department of the Interior and staying in communication with the tribe,” HUD told CNN.
Earlier this week, HUD informed the Nooksack Tribe of the BIA’s findings regarding the specific nine people residing in the tribe’s rental units. “The DOI’s limited review has concluded that the Nooksack Tribe eviction process has thus far been completed in accordance with the terms of the lease agreements and NIHA procedures,” according to an email from HUD to Chairman Cline. .
The findings “do not preclude HUD from initiating future monitoring efforts, including with respect to any planned deportations of additional families,” Thomas Carney, NwONAP Administrator at HUD, said in the email. The tribe still plans to evict the remaining members of the tribe.
Tribal members who are to be deported call on HUD to take all possible steps to end deportations indefinitely, end police harassment and intimidation, and ensure due process guarantees.
After an early retirement, Michelle Roberts, her husband and son moved to the lands managed by Nooksack about 15 years ago. The 57-year-old wanted to be closer to her parents and have a “nice and quiet life”. The life she thought she would have turned into a nearly 10-year battle over unsubscribing.
In 2013, the Nooksack Tribal Council began de-enrolling over 300 tribal members, leading to the name “Nooksac 306.” The council said the unenrolled members are descended from a Canadian ancestor who was not a legal Nooksack member, making them ineligible to enroll in the tribe. They were officially deregistered in 2016 and 2018.
Roberts served on the board for two years before his deregistration and was later removed from the position. She believes the eviction plan is a “power grab” and that the council has “abused tribal sovereignty and taken it for granted”.
The Nooksack Tribe Registration Service did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Growing up, Santana Rabang was part of both the Nooksack Tribe and the Lummi Nation, another native tribe in Washington State. She was 16 when the opt-out battle began and was told she didn’t qualify to be a member of the Nooksack Tribe. She then went through a period of transition where she questioned her identity as an Aboriginal woman.
“I think they don’t want us in Nooksack at all – they just want to move us from our traditional lands as a whole,” she said. “I grew up with these people and although I don’t have a blood connection with many people on the opposite side, we all considered each other family.”
Rabang said that since the start of the deregistration, tension has spread within the community of nearly 2,000 tribal members. “There are so many divisions because even if someone wanted to speak up about what is right, they can’t because they would become a target.”
Galanda told CNN the deportation plan violates international universal human rights. “The unacceptable truth is that Native Americans on tribal lands do not enjoy civil rights protections,” he said.