Leadership and citizenship feud results in closure of Nooksack Tribe casino
For the second time in less than two years, employees of a casino owned and operated by the Nooksack Indian Tribe are jobless without having been given any prior notice of an impending closing.
After having already been deemed “unelected, unrecognized and illegitimate,” by an assistant U.S. attorney, last week Thursday, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) ordered the Washington State tribe to close its last remaining casino, Northwood Casino, located in Whatcom County, according to The Seattle Times. Situated in the town of Lynden, the casino sits on the site of the Nooksack Indian village Squahalish.
The NIGC found that the casino was not being operated in accordance with the federal law governing Indian gaming and the tribe was hit with an 18-page order, which states that the federal law dictates that tribal casinos “must be conducted by federally recognized leadership,” according to the news agency. The tribe, which for years has been embroiled in a bitter political controversy regarding disenrollment, has no such leadership according to the order.
As noted in the order, the Nooksack tribe was sent a series of letters from the top federal official for Indian affairs saying that any actions of the tribal council would not be recognized by the federal government because four of its serving members have expired terms and as such it did not meet the quorum. Last year, elections which would have remedied the four-seat vacancy were canceled due to its focus on its effort to disenroll 306 of its members, a decision made by a 2013 tribal council under the leadership of tribal Chairman Bob Kelly. In February 2013, notices were sent out to the 306 members, informing them of disenrollment.
This year’s elections were invalidated by the feds due to the fact that the 306 members had already been disenrolled, thus making the vote null and void. On top of that, the tribe was defunded by federal and state agencies, resulting in the Nooksack losing millions of dollars. Making a bad situation worse, the NIGC’s order lists a series of violations, including failure of the tribe to operate the casino in a manner that “adequately protects the environment and the public health and safety,” and relating to the tribe’s leadership, failure to “maintain sole proprietary interest in and responsibility for the conduct of its gaming operation,” according to the Seattle news agency.
Notice of six violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act have reportedly been issued to the tribe and the casino by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Seattle Times, citing a news release, reported that gaming commission Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri said: “We do not take lightly the issuance of notices of violation and closure orders against tribal gaming operations. We are taking this significant enforcement action only after a complete analysis of the unique circumstances involved, including a full review of the structure of the tribe’s governing and business bodies.”
The order to close the Northwood Casino is the first time such an action has been taken by gaming regulators, according to Gabriel Galanda, a Seattle lawyer representing disenrolled members. The NIGC order can be appealed by the Nooksack tribe, however, it stands to lose more than $50,000 a day for any ongoing violation.
Failure by the tribal council to address financial and legal problems related to $15 million debt reportedly owed to Outsource Services Management and the disenrollment fight, led to the closing of the Nooksack tribe’s River Casino on Friday, December 11, 2015.
On Friday afternoon the Northwood Casino remained open, a worker said, but by that evening the casino had closed, reportedly without any notice.