Nov 3, 2015 - Nooksack 306 Awarded $22K Against BIA For FOIA Non-Compliance
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 3, 2015
CONTACT: Michelle Roberts
FEDERAL COURT AWARDS NOOKSACK 306 $22,000
Nooksack Disenrollees Sought FOIA Records from BIA Regarding 2013 Federal Disenrollment Election; BIA Sent Them a $10,000 Bill and Litigation Ensued
Seattle, WA – On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones, of the Western District of Washington, awarded Nooksack 306 family leaders and jettisoned Nooksack Tribal Councilpersons Rudy St. Germain and Michelle Roberts $22,000 against the U.S. Interior Department for its violations of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
“We are thrilled that our Trustee has been held accountable for its failure to provide information that impacts our existence as enrolled tribal members,” said Roberts. “We are still baffled that the BIA would attempt to charge us $10,000 to receive those trust records—they should not have cost us a penny.”
In the spring of 2013, the Secretary of the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) convened a federal election of the Nooksack Tribe to facilitate the disenrollment of the Nooksack 306. The BIA failed to properly review a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the Nooksack Indian Tribe, that transparently eliminated federally imposed Nooksack membership criteria that the 306 satisfy, causing tribal legal pundits to deem the election a “disenrollment election.” Per 25 U.S.C. § 476, the BIA should have never held the election.
In July of 2013, St. Germain and Roberts requested from the BIA the most recent thirty days worth of publicly available information referring or relating to the Secretarial election. For 1,000 pages of responsive information, the BIA demanded that they pay $10,116.00.
St. Germain and Roberts appealed this determination via the BIA’s administrative appeals process, as required by federal regulations, but the appeal was ignored by Interior. In turn, St. Germain and Roberts filed suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle.
It was not until July of 2015, when, in the face of St. Germain and Roberts’ summary judgment motion under FOIA, Interior waived the $10,116.00 fee assessment and finally agreed to produce the information requested two years prior.
The disenrollment of the Nooksack 306, which commenced in December of 2012, remains stayed by the Interior Board of Indian Appeals and Nooksack Tribal Court, pending Secretarial review of the Tribe’s disenrollment ordinance as required by the Nooksack Constitution. As such, the prevailing Nooksack Tribal Council faction recently asked the BIA to convene and expedite a second Secretarial election to once again amend the Tribal Constitution to disadvantage the 306; this time to eliminate that Secretarial review requirement.
In turn, that faction—led by adopted Nooksack member and Tribal Chairman Bob Kelly—hopes to disenroll the Nooksack 306 prior to a Nooksack Tribal Council election in March of 2016, when four other anti-306 incumbents are up for re-election. Tribal Council candidate filings are expected around the time the Nooksack 306 disenrollment controversy will reach its three-year anniversary, on December 19.
It is no coincidence that two weeks ago, Interior announced a new BIA rule that seeks to get the agency “out of the Secretarial election business [as] such federal elections are used as a mode of intra-tribal warfare, with the BIA placed directly in the firing line.”