The Nooksack Tribe
is back in the gaming business.
The Nooksack Northwood Casino
in Lynden, Washington, reopened on Saturday
as part of a settlement with the National Indian Gaming Commission
. The federal agency shut down the facility nearly three months ago after finding numerous "violations" of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act
requires the tribe to resolve all of the deficiencies identified in a June 15 notice of violation and a closure order
It was signed on Friday by Bob Kelly, who has retained his leadership position through a separate memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the Department of the Interior
"I am glad that the MOA we negotiated with the Department of Interior and today's settlement agreement with the NIGC will affirm the foundation that will allow our people to move forward on our journey of self-government once and for all," Kelly said in a statement on Friday. He noted that the tribe won't be required to pay a $15 million fine as part of the settlement with the NIGC.
The closure of the casino
came after the Bureau of Indian Affairs
stopped recognizing Kelly as the legitimate leader of the tribe. The agency said his government was illegitimate because he failed to hold elections to fill four seats on the tribal council.
But Kelly has been recognized as a "person of authority" for the tribe as part of the MOA. After signing the document on August 25
, he called for an election to fill the four seats.
In order to restore its government-to-government relationship with the United States, the tribe agreed to accept anyone who has been the subject of recent disenrollment proceedings. That includes a group known as The
, whose members have challenged Kelly's attempts to strip them of their citizenship.
"Nooksack self-government is a sovereign right and I have no doubt that the Nooksack people will do what is best for our tribe in the upcoming special election," Kelly said in his statement.
Leadership disputes in Indian Country are common and federal agencies try not to intervene in order to let tribes resolve issues on their own. But the government has been known to take action
when a particular leader or faction fails to maintain a legitimate government.
According to the BIA, the Nooksack government has lacked a quorum since March 2016. Repeated warnings and threats about the situation didn't stop Kelly and his disputed council from ousting more than 280 people from the rolls throughout the year.
The lack of a valid government prompted the BIA and other federal agencies to suspend funding to the tribe. But the money is again flowing as a result of the MOA signed by Kelly.
The full statement from Chairman Kelly follows:
Nooksack self-government is a sovereign right and I have no doubt that the Nooksack people will do what is best for our Tribe in the upcoming special election. The Tribal Council and I have consistently followed Nooksack law in the handling of our governing responsibilities despite the view of many outsiders who object to prior Tribal Council efforts to remove non-Indians from our tribal roll.
We value our working relationship with the U.S. government which is based on our treaties and our mutual desire to serve the Nooksack people. I am glad that the MOA we negotiated with the Department of Interior and today's Settlement Agreement with the NIGC will affirm the foundation that will allow our people to move forward on our journey of self-government once and for all.
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