UN observers call on US government to stop evictions by Nooksack Indian tribe

In an unusual move on ThursdayUnited Nations experts have called on the United States government to end continued efforts by the Nooksack Indian Tribe to evict some families from their homes, arguing for the need to respect human rights and citing federal funding tied to the homes in question.

However, it’s unclear whether the Biden administration can or will heed that call. An investigation into the case launched last year by the US Department of the Interior found no procedural violations. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has also been monitoring the situation but has not yet released any findings.

“While the Department of the Interior has found that the Nooksack Tribe appears to have followed its internal administrative process, we implore the tribal leadership to halt their planned evictions,” said Department of Indian Affairs Assistant Secretary Bryan. Newland, in a written statement Thursday.

Ross Cline Sr., who chairs the Nooksack Tribal Council, pushed back.

“I wish the United Nations would expand its interest in the plight of Native Americans residing on reservations/trust lands throughout Indian Country,” Cline wrote in an email, saying some Nooksack members live in homes without public services and that others are homeless.

“Yet the UN only cares about a few Canadian indigenous peoples,” he added, referring to the contested legacy of those facing deportation.

Thursday’s unusual announcement by UN special rapporteurs on adequate housing and the rights of indigenous peoples, sparked by a December appeal from a Seattle-based attorney for families facing eviction, is the latest development in a longstanding dispute over enrollment in the east-based Bellingham tribe.

“We call on the U.S. government to uphold the right to adequate housing…and ensure it meets its international obligations, including with respect to the rights of Indigenous peoples,” the experts said in a statement. press release from the United Nations Office of the United Nations. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

There are 63 people who identify as Nooksack and face eviction from homes they have lived in for many years, which were developed with federal funding, the statement said. Many of those facing eviction “are elderly, women and children – some with disabilities and chronic illnesses”, and being evicted could impact their health, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, adds the press release.

“We are also concerned that forced evictions will deny them the opportunity to enjoy their own culture and use their own language in community with others,” the special rapporteurs said in the statement.

Families facing eviction asked the US government to intervene on their behalf last year, while Nooksack leaders asserted tribal sovereignty, presenting the Biden administration with tough decisions to make.

It’s unclear how the UN announcement might influence what happens next.

“While we respect and are committed to maintaining tribal sovereignty, we do not support the manner in which these actions are carried out. There is still time for the Nooksack Tribe to treat members of their community with dignity and respect, and we hope they will,” said Newland of the Home Office.

HUD has previously urged the Nooksack government to delay evictions while the Department of the Interior investigates, and the agency said it will review the case for program violations. But an agency statement on Thursday did not mention that review.

“HUD strives to provide housing resource information to families so they are aware of potential options for keeping them in stable housing,” the statement read.

Federal officials are generally reluctant to interfere in intratribal affairs. But the Nooksack families’ lawyer, Gabe Galanda, says the missive from the special rapporteurs could be unprecedented.

Galanda is not aware of any other instance in which the UN became involved in a dispute within a Native American community, as opposed to a dispute between Native Americans and the US government, he said. . The attorney hopes the UN announcement will help persuade HUD to take action.

the The UN press release mentioned HUD funding for the homes in question and said Nooksack leaders, in pursuing deregistration and evictions, ignored what their tribal court ruled.

“We are encouraged that the UN has affirmed the human and civil rights of our clients, as we have articulated them now for nearly a decade,” Galanda said.

Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council with a mandate to monitor, advise and report on human rights issues. Balakrishnan Rajagopal is the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing and Francisco Cali Tzay is the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They had been in contact with US officials about the Nooksack case before Thursday, according to the press release.

“It’s just unbelievable that they could look at such a small group and start helping us,” Saturnino Javier, one of those facing eviction from the tribe, said on Thursday.

The Nooksack government has been trying for years to evict more than 300 of the tribe’s nearly 2,000 members, including 21 families who currently live on off-reserve tribal properties held in trust by the United States.

Cline, the tribal council chairman, said the families known as “Nooksack 306” were incorrectly listed in the 1980s, could not adequately prove their lineage and were de-listed in 2016 and 2018.

The evictions, according to Cline, represent the tribe simply taking overdue action to enforce its rules. Cline objected to Galanda’s aggressive lobbying as interference and warned the U.S. government against any attempt to rule the tribe.

The families and Galanda have challenged the effort at every turn, drawing attention across the country as leading opponents of tribal deregistration, an increasingly common practice that can involve power and resource struggles. and questions about culture and identity.

Galanda said nearly all of the homes involved were developed with the help of HUD as rental residences, meaning her clients would have to own their homes or hold equity. Cline disagrees. The Nooksack 306s are at a disadvantage in the dispute, as the tribal government has barred Galanda and other adversarial attorneys not employed by the tribe from representing the families in tribal court.

For several years, ongoing lawsuits in US courts prevented the tribe from taking further action. But those lawsuits were dismissed last year, clearing the way for Nooksack executives to embark on a multi-step eviction process this winter. The process was moving ahead before Christmas, with one family receiving notice to leave by December 28. But the tribe took a break due to bad weather and then agreed to delay action until February under pressure from the BIA, Galanda said.

This coverage is partially underwritten by Microsoft Philanthropies. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over this and all of its coverage.

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