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How a burglary, social media and politics led to a Nooksack Tribal Councilwoman being bullied out of office. Tageant says she has struggled with anxiety and depression in the wake of a dispute over the issue of disenrollment. She now teaches courses at Northwest Indian College in Bellingham. So when she checked her Facebook notifications one morning in Februaryshe was shocked. Tribal citizens jumped in with dozens of comments, making it painfully obvious to Tageant that her picture was making the rounds.

Still, she locked herself in her room for the rest of the day. A few weeks earlier, someone had broken in to her home, and the violation had shaken her. Her mind reeled as she realized that the burglar must have stolen those photos. She checked her album and, sure enough, four of the boudoir shots were missing.

Tageant grew up on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride away from Seattle. Asshe often traveled north to the Nooksack Reservation with her grandma and her mother. After a short stint at a tribal college in Kansas, Tageant returned to Nooksack territory. The reservation itself is just four buildings on a one-acre parcel in northern Washington, tucked into a U-shaped dip of the Nooksack River. There, she assisted victims of domestic violence and addiction, and connected families with food stamps, energy credits and parenting classes. After nearly a decade of public service, Tageant won a seat on the Nooksack Tribal Council in and was elected again in March In earlythe tribal council voted to invalidate the enrollment of descendants of a Nooksack woman named Annie George.

Tageant was not among the disenrollees, who came to be known as the Nooksackbut she was outspoken in her support of them. On Facebook, Keith Williams slammed Tageant and her support for theurging tribal members to recall her from the council. Little did she know, the digital intimidation was just the beginning of what would become a full-on assault on her reputation.

Tageant's digital harassment was a new outlet for old tensions in the Nooksack community. The roots of the conflict stretch back to the s and s, when Nooksack families moved to Bainbridge Island for farm work.

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Around the same time, the area saw an influx of Filipino immigrants. By the late s and early s, the Rabangs, an Indipino family, dominated the tribal council, and other Nooksack families were not pleased. While there are no official statistics, Wilkins estimates that as many as 8, individuals from up to 85 tribes have been affected.

Tageant, whose grandfather was Filipino, says some tribal elders resented the interracial families. After the Rabangs fell from power in the s, the council again moved in to invalidate their enrollments. It would be easy to conclude the disenrollment of the is racially motivated; all the disenrollees come from Indipino families. But the reality is more complicated: Some disenrollment supporters also come from interracial families.

The say the effort is driven not only by anti- Filipino sentiments, but also by a hunger for power and the desire to share limited resources, such as Christmas bonuses and school supplies funds, with a smaller of members. Supporters of disenrollment, on the other hand, insist the issue is strictly about bloodlines and belonging. During their time on the council, she and Kelly vehemently disagreed about disenrollment. A few months after Williams began harassing Tageant, Kelly announced a special election to recall her.

Likewise, Keith Williams encouraged his followers to recall Tageant. Vote yes and remove Carmen Tageant! As tensions mounted between the council and theTageant found herself caught in the middle of a political game. That July, a group of tribal members held their own special election to fill those seats.

They voted to reinstate Tageant, but Kelly refused to recognize the. Over the next year and a half, the U. When the tribe announced its elections, Tageant tried to submit her candidacy application in person, minutes before the filing deadline.

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A case on the matter is ongoing, and Ashby declined to comment. I lost all my income. I was being harassed. I was losing everything that I worked so hard for. Tageant lost friends, too. One family worried that being seen as close to her might have consequences. No more hugs in public, they agreed, just polite waves in passing. So when the Nooksack police served Tageant a court document related to her council recall, the thought of dealing with the case filled her with anxiety.

She felt lightheaded and figured she needed to eat something. Tageant turned to her daughter. Tageant no longer feels quite like herself. Many of those addresses were hosted by Comcast and Verizon Wireless, so the legal team also subpoenaed those telecom giants for additional details.

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After nearly 10 months, the breakthrough came: The team identified a cellphone used to access the Williams. The owner, the investigators found, was a woman named LeAndra Smith. The details all lined up: Smith, a member of the tribe, worked at the Nooksack Tribal Health Clinic, and the cellphone she used to log in to the Williams was issued to her by the tribe.

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She also logged in using work computers — hence the Nooksack government office IP addresses. For years, Smith and Tageant were friendly. But the disenrollment dispute muddied their relationship. Still, despite their recent rocky relationship, Tageant was shocked to learn that Smith was apparently behind the lingerie post, and she wondered where Smith got the photos. The burglary case was never solved, and no one has been charged; Tageant questioned whether Smith had been involved.

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Regardless, here was a fellow Indigenous woman that Tageant had invited into her home, a woman who had held her children — who now hated Tageant enough to harass her with a fake Facebook profile. She not only ed the petition initiating the recall election, she also testified that she assisted in gathering atures for it. Since disenrollment began, divisions in the community have only deepened.

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This summer, Nooksack tribal member George Adams was allegedly assaulted by three tribal police officers, who came to arrest his daughter, Elile, for failing to appear in court for a civil case. His daughter, who relinquished her Nooksack membership, has enrolled with the Lummi Tribe; his wife has been disenrolled; and Adams has filed suit in a Whatcom County court against the Nooksack court judge and tribal police officers.

They went backwards. Currently, the Nooksack Tribal Council is the only entity with the power to decide the future of disenrollees or their supporters. The Nooksack, like all federally recognized tribes, is a sovereign nation. Once the tribe gained federal recognition in the s, it adopted a constitution, which lays out the framework establishing the tribal council, along with its wide range of responsibilities: determining membership, of course, but also managing tribal lands, negotiating with federal, state or local governments, administering funds, levying taxes and establishing a tribal police force and court system.

IRA constitutions differ from the U. Constitution in that they usually lack checks and balances between branches of government. Instead, the tribal council holds all legislative, judicial and executive power. In a hearing in a related case filed in federal court, a U. Retaliation from tribal officials is common in disenrollment cases, according to Wilkins, as is social ostracism. Disenrolled members or their supporters often end up feeling like pariahs.

He believes that the U. By law, however, the U. But, Galanda argues, not every tribe has the same ability to self-govern, and the U. It was the U. The Nooksack, who were not granted a reservation, were expected to move from their villages to the Lummi Reservation, but most stayed in the area and filed homestead claims to gain legal title to their lands. Galanda argues that the U. What are the peacemaking norms when a tribe is being ripped apart at the seams? But even if it were allowed, how would one determine the right time for the federal government to step in?

There is another possibility, he adds: Congress could amend the Indian Civil Rights Act to allow federal courts to review disenrollment cases, a move he believes would deter disenrollment. But however well-intentioned or even effective it might be, this kind of federal oversight could come at the cost of eroding tribal sovereignty. If disenrollment issues could trigger a federal intervention or review, the federal government could easily argue that similar intervention is necessary in other cases related to disenrollment, such as tribal council elections an area where the federal government has already intervened in the Nooksack Tribe as well as others or resource allocation.

But Galanda believes the U. Still, she elected to file her lawsuits in a Washington state court, avoiding the tribal court system entirely. Smith replied no. The case ended in a settlement in April Tageant is especially bothered that even after the settlement, Smith was able to keep her job while Tageant has been struggling to find work. Working in social services was a way to lift up her community, and she sees teaching as another opportunity to care for others. She wants to pay that lesson forward, she says. This story was originally published at High Country News on February 1, Jane C.

Hu is a freelance science writer. Her work has appeared in Slate, Nautilus and Pacific Standard. You can find her at janehu. Share Facebook Twitter Print.

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Hu High Country News. After that, I just got so depressed. I lost my job, I lost my title. The U. Topics: Indigenous AffairsPacific Northwest. Hu Jane C. Up next Opinion.

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