A group gathered in downtown Seattle on Friday to protest the potential disenrollment of hundreds of Nooksack members from their tribe. If it goes forward, it would likely be the largest tribal disenrollment in Washington history.
Toni Jones is one of the 306 Nooksack who would lose tribal membership if disenrollment goes forward. She joined about a hundred others as they marched from Pioneer Square to the tribe’s lawyer’s office building.
“Ever since I was a little tiny girl, I’ve known that I (was) Nooksack, that’s who I am,” Jones said before marching. “That’s who I was raised to be, it’s in my blood.” She said the disenrollment is hard-hitting for her and her relatives. “It’s a deep hurt that is not explainable. It’s somebody trying to strip me away from what I’ve known, what I was born with.”
The tribe wants to expel the members because it says there’s no proof of their tribal ancestry. The 306 members are all descended from a woman named Annie George, whose name happens to be missing on a 1942 census. But Nooksack tribe member Rudy Romero says the omission is nothing more than a mistake in the records.
“I’ll be losing my identity,” Romero said. He echoed Jones’ sentiment, saying it would strip him of his cultural integrity. “I’ve known ever since I was a little boy that I was Nooksack and that I was Native American. And the tribal council is trying to take that away from me.”
The tribe has previously said it’s unfair to its documented members to allow people to stay enrolled without proof of their lineage. If disenrollment goes through, the members would lose access to certain benefits, like health care and tribal jobs.
A Seattle attorney managed to put a temporary halt to the process last month. But the Nooksack tribal council plans to conduct the removal hearings as soon as possible.