Nooksack COA Rules against Nooksack Disenrollees

Here is the opinion in Lomeli v. Kelly (Nooksack App.):

Lomeli v Kelly COA Opinion

An excerpt:

This appeal is from the Tribal Com1’s order dismissing Appellants· second amended complaint. Appellants requested the Tribal Court enjoin members of the Nooksack Tribal Council from conducting disenrollment proceedings against them. Appellants are understandably gravely concemed at the prospect of disenrollment. We understand how serious the prospect of disenrollment is to Appellants. and how it impacts their cultural. social and political identity.

We also recognize that determining its own membership is a hallmark of a tribe’s sovereignty. It is one of the few aspects of tribal sovereignty that has withstood the  relentless attempts by outside forces to tear down tribal self-governance, and one of the  few aspects of tribal sovereignty that has not been eroded by the federal government.

Judges are not sages. We do not delude ourselves into believing we have the wisdom of a Solomon. It is not our role to insert ourselves into the Tribe’s political fray. or second guess  the political judgments made by the Tribe’s elected leaders or its voting members, even if  we believe those judgments unwise. We, like the trial court. are limited to resolving legal questions where authorized by the Tribe’s Constitution and laws.

The nature of this dispute requires us to find the delicate balance between Nooksack lawand politics keeping in mind the equal importance attached to both Tribal membership and Tribal sovereignty. The Tribe’s Constitution guides us in this difficult task. which we are duty bound to perform.

The Nooksack judiciary is not the only Nooksack governmental body whose decisions are tethered to the Tribe’s Constitution and laws. The decisions of its elected officials are as well. The trial judge expressed it well and it is worth repeating:

The Tribal Council members named in this Complaint hold an obligation to act in the best interests of the Nooksack Indian Tribe. Membership and enrollment decisions impact individual lives in the deepest possible ways and those decisions cannot be taken lightly. This Cotut recognizes the serious implications of this case and its decision on this motion and all the others that have preceded it. It is the solemn obligation of this Court to follow the law of the Nooksack Indian Tribe and it is the obligation of the Tribal Council to do the same.

Briefs are here and here.

Lower court materials are here.

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