In another blow to the Nooksack tribe, a federal agency ordered the tribe to shut down its casino — immediately. It is the latest rebuke to the tribe by the feds, who consider the tribal council illegitimate amid a long-running disenrollment fight.
Already slammed by an assistant U.S. attorney who called its council “unelected, unrecognized and illegitimate,” the Nooksack tribe is facing the loss of its last remaining casino.
Under the federal law governing Indian gaming, tribal casinos “must be conducted by federally recognized leadership,” said the 18-page order.
The tribe, embroiled in a long-running disenrollment fight, has no such leadership. As the order noted, the top federal official for Indian affairs wrote a series of letters to the tribe last year saying the feds would refuse to recognize any actions of the tribal council because four members with expired terms continued to serve. As such, the tribe did not have the necessary quorum.
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Tribal Chairman Bob Kelly could not be reached for comment about the gaming commission’s order.
The council’s cancellation of elections last year stemmed from its attempt to kick out roughly 300 people whose lineage it questioned.
There were elections this year, but the 300, disenrolled by that time, were not allowed to participate, invalidating the vote to the feds.
A lot else has happened. Federal and state agencies defunded the tribe, causing it to lose millions of dollars. The tribe sued, prompting the assistant U.S. attorney’s stinging rebuke.
And this week, the Indian Health Service said it was taking over providing health care to the tribe. The agency has contracted with Sea Mar Community Health Centers for the purpose, it explained in a letter to members.
Kelly said in an email earlier this week that a Nooksack clinic would remain open regardless.
Now comes the gaming commission’s order, which lists a series of violations, including failure of the tribe to “maintain sole proprietary interest in and responsibility for the conduct of its gaming operation,” which relates to the tribe’s leadership.
The commission also said the tribe was not operating the casino in a way that “adequately protects the environment and the public health and safety.” The Environmental Protection Agency has issued notice to the tribe of six violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, including at the casino.
“I was very disappointed to learn of the violations and it is my understanding that the matter had been resolved,” Kelly said by email.
In a news release, 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.”
Gabriel Galanda, a Seattle lawyer representing disenrolled members and a crusading figure against tribal disenrollment nationwide, said the order to close the casino marked the first time gaming regulators have taken action in such a dispute.
The tribe can appeal the order. But for any ongoing violation, it could be fined more than $50,000 a day.
Two years ago, the Nooksack’s River Casino closed amid financial and legal problems that the council failed to address as the disenrollment fight overshadowed everything else.
Northwood Casino remained open Friday afternoon, a worker said.
Dylan Brune, a security officer who answered the phone, said he had received no word of the order to close from the casino’s manager. Nor had there been any meeting of employees.
“No one here knows anything,” he said.
But by Friday night, the casino had closed and callers were told to check its website for updates.
Information in this article, originally published June 16, 2017, was corrected June 16, 2017. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Northwood Casino is in Deming. It is in Lynden.