The Nooksack Tribe owns and operates the Nooksack Northwood Casino in Lynden, Washington. Still image: Crooked Tooth Productions
NIGC | Opinion

Harold Monteau: Sovereignty at risk with Nooksack Tribe dispute



The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indian Health Service and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have already taken action against the Nooksack Tribe, whose leaders are no longer recognized as a legitimate government. So where does the National Indian Gaming Commission stand? Harold Monteau, a citizen of the Chippewa Cree Tribe who served as chairman of the NIGC during the 1990s, calls on the gaming agency to suspend operations at the Nooksack Northwood Casino and halt the distribution of gaming funds amid a disenrollment and leadership dispute:
The Department of Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Larry Roberts, notified other Federal agencies, such as IHS, HUD, and presumably the NIGC, that it will no longer issue Federal funds to the Nooksack Indian Tribe. So why is the NIGC not acting at Nooksack commensurate with the other Federal agencies? The NIGC has closed Indian casinos in the past when it could not determine that the facilities and revenues were in control of a bona fide tribal governing body. As former Chairman of the NIGC, I shut down the Elem Casino in California when the factions were shooting at each other and the casino operations did not appear to be in control of a recognized tribal government. NIGC Chairman Phil Hogen shut down the Sac and Fox Tribe’s Meskwaki Casino in 2013. The present NIGC Chairman shut down Chukchansi Gold Casino in California when it could not be determined whether a bona fide tribal government was in control of the casino and its revenue (this action after physical force was used in the takeover of Chukchansi tribal gaming).

Is there some rationale, or some kind of favoritism, or political influence in play, or some legal excuse for not acting in this analogous situation? For some reason the Nooksack Holdover Council is getting special treatment. This is no mere internal matter involving tribal politics or membership or an enrollment dispute. It is a matter of the NIGC as trustee doing its duty under IGRA and its own regulations now that the tribal gaming facilities and revenue are now in the hands of an entity that the Department of Interior has determined is not the legitimate governing body. Additionally, the office of Indian gaming should be requesting the Inspector General and FBI to assist in investigating to whom and where these funds are going. The U.S. Trustee is acting in a very disjointed manner here.

The Nooksack Holdover Council continues to make gaming per capita distributions to their families and allies, but excluded the Nooksack 300 from those payments. Calling these payments from Indian gaming revenues stipends or distributions does not exempt them from IGRA’s Revenue Allocation Plan (RAP) requirements before distributions can be made to individuals. IGRA and the NIGC regulations also prohibit such discriminatory distributions. It does not appear that Nooksack has ever had a RAP approved by Interior that would even allow distribution of Class II or III gaming revenues to Nooksack members. Distribution of tribal gaming revenues without an approved RAP is a serious violation of IGRA and NIGC Regulations.

Read More on the Story:
Harold Monteau: NIGC Needs to Suspend Nooksack Gaming Operations and Distributions (Indian Country Media Network 6/6)