National tribal judge group questions firing in disenrollment case

The Nooksack Tribe of Washington is trying to remove 306 people from the rolls. Photo from The Nooksack 306 / Facebook

The National American Indian Court Judges Association is expressing concerns about a closely-watched disenrollment dispute in Washington state.

The group isn't taking a position on underlying issue -- whether the Nooksack Tribe can remove more than 300 people from the rolls. But the board of directors is questioning whether the chief judge on the reservation was fired because she ruled against the tribal council.

"If that proves correct, the action represents a clear threat to judicial independence," the board said in a statement.

Tribal leaders have admitted they fired Susan Alexander because her rulings represented a threat to their sovereignty. But when local media asked for clarification, they were met with confusing and conflicting responses.

Chairman Bob Kelley told The Bellingham Herald that Alexander was trying to change "how courts work in Indian Country" but then said she was ousted because she waived the tribe's sovereign immunity. Council member Katherine Canete offered a similar reasoning to The Seattle Times but backtracked when she was told that the judge's most recent ruling never mentioned immunity.

“I’m trying to think of the best way to put it into words. I’d have to think about that," Canete told the Times. The paper said she never explained why she thought the tribe's immunity was at issue.

The tribe has indeed lost a series of rulings involving a group known as The Nooksack 306. But Alexander's decisions have largely focused on addressing due process rights and voting rights under tribal law. None have questioned the tribe's ability to remove people from the rolls or the tribe's immunity.

The tribe posted advertisements for a new chief judge after Alexander was fired. The application period closed May 6, according to one ad on Craigslist.

"The Chief Judge is responsible for fair and impartial hearings and deciding judicial matters within the jurisdiction of the Nooksack Indian Tribal Court pursuant to the Nooksack Tribal Law and Order Code, by laws, ordinances, regulations and applicable Federal and local laws," the ad stated.

The National American Indian Court Judges Association is a membership group of tribal court judges and tribal court personnel.

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Nooksack Tribe fires judge and loses attorney in disenrollment crisis (05/04)
Washington rally draws attention to tribal disenrollment epidemic (04/18)
Peter d'Errico: Nooksack Tribe fuels bad stereotypes about courts (03/25)
Nooksack Tribe slammed by judge for disbarring lawyer and firm (3/22)
Nooksack Tribe moves to disenroll even more people amid fight (3/17)
Nooksack Tribe interferes with judicial branch and disbars law firm (3/9)
Al Jazeera program focuses on tribal disenrollment controversies (3/4)
Chase Iron Eyes: Real sovereigns don't disenroll their own people (02/10)
National campaign launched to stop tribal disenrollment epidemic (02/09)
Nooksack Tribe loses bid to prevent some from voting in election (01/27)
Gabe Galanda: The tide keeps turning against disenrollment (11/16)
Gabe Galanda: The growing chorus against disenrollments (11/13)
Gabriel Galanda: Banish drug dealers but don't disenroll them (09/08)
Nooksack Tribe disenrollment proceedings placed on hold again (07/14)
Indian attorneys take a stand and denounce tribal disenrollment (04/13)
Judge tells Nooksack Tribe to delay disenrollment proceedings (02/24)
Nooksack Tribe moves forward with disenrollment proceedings (02/10)
Gabe Galanda: The legal consequences of tribal disenrollments (2/3)
Gabe Galanda: Tribes are carrying out the wishes of the colonizer (01/16)
Gabe Galanda: Disenrollments are bankrupting our tribal nations (01/15)
Court tells Nooksack Tribe to stop disenrollment proceedings (06/13)
Nooksack Tribe attempts to resume disenrollment proceedings (6/4)
KUOW: Nooksack Tribe election shows divide on disenrollment (03/18)
Disenrollees of Nooksack Tribe to seek recount after election (3/17)
Opinion: Nooksack Tribe engages in deadly disenrollment trend (3/14)
Opinion: Nooksack Tribe's election affects disenrollment dispute (03/03)
Michelle Roberts: Open letter on Nooksack Tribe disenrollment (2/27)
Nooksack Tribe heads into election amid disenrollment dispute (2/18)
Court puts hold on disenrollments within Nooksack Tribe (01/23)
Michelle Roberts: Nooksack Tribe persecutes its own people (12/17)