Rather than looking at the good a tribe can do for its people, the Robinson Rancheria is now looking at termination of over 20% of it's adult membership. Denying them the right to vote, homes, health care. And ALL during Native American Heritage Month
UPPER LAKE – The Robinson Rancheria Band of Pomos Citizens Business Council this week is holding hearings that could have serious implications for the future of dozens of people whose lives are shaped by their unique identity as native Pomo.
Of the tribe's 347 voting members, 60 have been notified that they are being considered for disenrollment, according to Tribal Chair Tracey Avilia.
Other sources within the tribe estimate the number of potential disenrollments to be as high as 74.
Whichever number is correct, both sides agree that this is the largest disenrollment action the tribe has ever attempted in its history.
The action's results could be devastating for those who find their names removed from the tribe's rolls.
Entire families face the loss of their homes, jobs, health care, education and a sense of their own identity. Homebound elders may no longer receive much-needed meals or monthly retirement checks. A daughter of the tribe's last chief also is reported to be up for dismissal.
Those up for disenrollment may have a slim hope of recourse, as the tribe's constitution contains an appeals process involving the Bureau of Indian Affairs which, in many tribal disenrollment cases, can't get involved, said Bureau of Indian Affairs Deputy Regional Director Dale Risling.
Potential disenrollees said the move is based on politics and greed, and that it's arisen out of a disputed June election that was decertified. They say they're being removed from the tribal rolls before a January election is planned so they can't vote to replace key council members trying to hold onto power.
John Gomez, president of the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization (AIRRO), agrees with those assessments of the Robinson Rancheria situation.
In California to date, an estimated 2,000 Indians have been disenrolled by 15 California tribes – not including those currently proposed at Robinson, said Gomez, noting that disenrollments often evolve around political issues and elections.
Avilia, the tribe's current chair, denies those allegations, saying that the disenrollments are a matter of tribal housekeeping, and merely an attempt to deal with longstanding questions about the validity of some members' claims.
The tribal members proposed for disenrollment received certified letters dated Nov. 20 – ironically, during the midst of Native American Heritage Month – notifying them that they were proposed for removal from the tribe's rolls, according to a copy of such a letter obtained by Lake County News.
Further, they were told they could request an appeal hearing with the Robinson Rancheria Citizens Business Council, during which they would have a half-hour to make their case for keeping their membership in the tribe. However, they had five business days to respond to the letter, and many tribal members live out of state.
Those appeal hearings began on Monday and have run throughout the week, according to tribal members.