Nooksacks for Hope

For many years, Nooksack Tribal Indians faced great upheaval and uncertainty as Europeans began showing up in the Northwest. What once was an established cultural way of life began to fragment at the seams when tribal non-recognition was not established until the 1970′s. By this time little of the old forms of a simple and sustained earthly life were left. Little remained for glimpses into a positive future or opportunity by the remaining 1,000 tribal members. Then came the wave of “hope” by the gaming industry – casinos. In the 1980′s to present, casinos began to pop up all over the US, and run by Indian tribes. The Nooksack Tribe received their first in the mid 1990′s.

Fast forward to today.  What once was heralded as a “entrepreneurial” way for tribes to reclaim some sense of economic viability and sustainability, casinos were to capture large sums of money for the tribal interest.  Some tribes (the vast minority) have used casino profits in big ways for their people.  Most have not.  Most have kept the financials (records of case flow and profits) from the scrutiny of their own people.  Stories are abundantly replete with Tribal council members, Chairmen, casino management, skimming money from the profit into their own personal interest pockets.  The Nooksack Tribal community is one of these.

Money, and the control of money, unaccounted for, by the powerful few, has lead to a culture of “corruption” and “hopelessness” within the Nooksack Tribal community.  The majority of tribal members feel there is little hope in changing this.  While the minority few, gaining from the graft, work very hard with keeping such as “status quo”.  Tactics used by this powerful minority to resist the actions or voices of those trying to bring positive change are: unjust, without cause, firing of employees within the tribal or casino administration or management; unrestrained poisoned innuendo or gossip passed around to disparage; hidden or public physical threats of bodily harm; threats of loosing tribal housing, etc.

In the face of all this a small number of Nooksack Tribal members are “fighting” back.  They have recently formed a new non-profit organization called “Nooksacks for Hope”. While their missional program is to bring benefit to the youth, elderly and families, through various relief or developmental programs, those in power, are doing all they can via said tactics above, to crush this meager upstart band of brave ones.  This particular effort with forming a new non-profit from a group of tribal members, not associated with Nooksack Tribal government, is very unique, yet challenging.  It is providing a “platform” for conversation, planning and action, from the perspective of people, not government.  Many forces within the tribe and the casino structure are doing all they can to dishearten and dissolve this effort.  “A new day is dawning,” says Julie Jefferson, “we have new hope because we have formed this new group.”

The Nooksacks for Hope in the next 2 years, plan to help their tribal school youth with gaining basic necessities and school supplies that help them participate in the full programs of the local public school; help with geriatric services in the homes for tribal elders to help them healthily stay in their homes for as long as possible; start up an Individual Development Account program for tribal families for post-secondary education, home ownership, small business, or retirement; and, to start up a Small and Simple Grants program for the different housing neighborhoods for Nooksacks.

Presently, the Nooksacks for Hope await the response of the IRS to their recent application for tax-exempt status.

Jeff Littlejohn, Executive Director of Imagine NW!, has been providing consultation to these Nooksack members in their formation of their organization and their program plans.


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