Indigenous Affairs

State Supreme Court will review Nooksack evictions case

Preliminary injunction granted in early June will be extended
June 23, 2022 at 3:09 p.m.
Michelle Roberts, Gabe Galanda, Alex Nicol-Mills and Carli Nicol-Mills tune in during Alex’s eviction hearing Wednesday afternoon.
Michelle Roberts, Gabe Galanda, Alex Nicol-Mills and Carli Nicol-Mills tune in during Alex’s eviction hearing Wednesday afternoon. (Julia Lerner/Cascadia Daily News)

By JULIA LERNER
Staff Reporter

The Washington State Supreme Court will review the ongoing eviction proceedings against seven households on Nooksack Tribal Land, the Court announced Thursday. 

The decision comes weeks after a Supreme Court commissioner granted a preliminary injunction, temporarily pausing the eviction proceedings facing petitioners Olive Oshiro, Norma and Eugene Aldredge, Michael Rabang, Michelle and Rupert Roberts, Francisco Rabang Sr., Wilma Rabang, Alex Nicol-Mills and Saturnino Javier.

The seven households involved in the suit are home to members of a group of more than 300 individuals who were formally removed from the Nooksack Indian Tribe following a bitter disenrollment battle, and have been facing the threat of eviction for months. Following disenrollment, 63 members of the 306 remained living in their homes on tribal lands.

With the injunction in place, they hoped they would be able to remain in their homes and ongoing eviction hearings would be delayed, but proceedings continued Wednesday

The case in the Supreme Court was filed against the Nooksack Housing Limited Partnerships — the majority owner of the homes the petitioners reside in — and the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, the group responsible for handling the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program in the state. 

The Nooksack Indian Tribe and its housing authority (NIHA) are pursuing the evictions, and the Tribe held four hearings against Oshiro, the Aldredges, Nicol-Mills and Javier on Wednesday, despite the injunction filed June 8

“The injunctive language that came out of that court did not prohibit our court from further pursuing these actions up to the point of eviction,” Rickie Armstrong, the Tribe’s lawyer, argued Wednesday. “It did not involve NIHA or the tribe. We are not parties to that case.” 

Though Wednesday’s judge, Charles Hostnik, agreed with the Tribe, Thursday’s court order calls new proceedings “highly problematic.” 

“This court’s order enjoins Nooksack Partnership from eviction petitioners but the tribal entity that is actually trying to evict them is NIHA,” the order states. “Any further action in the tribal court on the unlawful detainer proceeding will be highly problematic in light of this court’s order imposing a temporary injunction.” 

Preparations for the case will take several months, according to the court’s senior communications officer Lorrie Thompson. 

“It will take over four months for all of the required filings to be completed (around November), and then the case will be set for oral arguments,” Thompson said in an email. “We won’t have an oral argument date until after the briefings are complete.”

The court granted discretionary review to the case because the commissioner believes a lower court may have made a mistake in judgment, according to court documents. 

The Nooksack Indian Tribe initially filed paperwork to evict the seven households in December, citing a need for additional housing for enrolled tribal members, with more than 60 elders and unhoused constituents on a waiting list for low-income housing. 

“The Nooksack Indian Tribe owns the land and the housing, manages the properties, and is the landlord on the leases with all the tenants involved in the case,” the Tribe said in a statement. “In an effort to avoid dealing with the Tribe, the tenants have sued the Washington State Housing Finance Commission and the limited partnerships, which are only financing vehicles, neither of which are involved in owning or managing the rental properties that the Tribe offers to tribal members.”

The Nooksack Indian Tribe may file a motion to overturn the ruling, Thompson said, though that, too, would require review by the court justices. 

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