Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tribal Membership: It's NOT the P.T.A or Kiwanis

Recently the North County Times ran an editorial about a role for the government in disenrollments. Here is a rebuttal to some points:

The process of determining who is a legitimate member of an Indian nation is inherently an emotional one, and never more so than when tribes are expelling members, as has been happening quite a bit of late locally.
At those tribes with successful casinos, quite a bit of money can be at stake (in addition to issues of self-identity and family ties) ---- and so it's no surprise that lawyers are getting involved. Or at least wanting to get involved.
Outside of tribal courts, each of which sets its own rules, those being expelled have no legal right to appeal ---- something a group of recently expelled members from Pala want Congress to change.
We believe this would be a mistake.
The Indian tribes are best suited themselves to determine their own eligibility standards and rules. Just as it would be highly inappropriate (not to mention unconstitutional) for the government to pass laws determining how religions admit (or expel) members, so should tribal membership be left alone.

OP: The issue isn’t about determining membership, tribes do determine their won eligibility standards, but what happens when tribes act outside their OWN constitutions? The federal government should be able to step in when a tribe does not follow its laws and keeps people from exercising their rights in the U.S. Constitution. In Pechanga’s case, the tribe instituted an unconstitutional moratorium to halt enrollment. The moratorium was voted in to keep a large family, who fit all criteria for membership out. When another family, who supported the rightful placement of the first family, was stripped of it’s tribal citizenship, the tribe again voted to STOP all disenrollments. The tribal council took it upon itself to inform the tribe that membership issues did not fall under the authority of the tribal membership. What that would seem to mean is: The tribe CAN vote to keep people OUT, but they can’t vote to keep people IN?

These tribes' traditions and history extend far back into history; they were determining their rules for membership long before the Europeans showed up, and must be allowed to continue without outside interference.

OP: And we were fine, throughout history, there were NO mass terminations of tribal membership, including at tribes like Pala and Pechanga. It wasn’t until the casino came did tribes disenroll for money. Next will they ENROLL for money, essentially selling memberships?

Despite what the attorney for some expelled Pala members contends, tribal membership is most assuredly not a "civil rights" issue.

OP: Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals’ freedom from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression. That means churches can violate civil rights just as can tribal governments. In Pechanga’s case, habeas corpus, freedom of speech, rights to have attorney present, right to fair trial, (one council member showed up late and ruled on his mother’s and his aunt’s “fairness”)

Nobody has a right to be a member of the Presbyterian Church USA or the Roman Catholic Church, so nobody has a right to membership in the Pala Band of Mission Indians.

OP: If nobody has a right to membership, then there should be NO Pala Band of Mission Indians. How could there be? They’d be a group just like the P.T.A. rather than a sovereign government. Should churches have the same rights and benefits as tribal governments?

At the same time, we would point out that just as any American has the right to declare themselves head of his or her own church, the expelled members surely have the right to self-identify as American Indian. If enough are expelled from any one tribe, and can prove their ancestry under federal law, they also have the right to collectively petition Congress for recognition as a native community.

OP: This is ridiculous on its face. We ARE from our tribes, in our case, proven by Pechanga people who were alive during the formation of the reservation, such as Delores Tortuga in sworn testimony taken in the Luiseno language and confirmed by the tribe’s own hired expert. Pechanga’s vaunted elder, Antonio Ashman also swore that he knew Paulina Hunter as Pechanga. Pechanga’s enrollment committee chose not to use that evidence, but rather took the hearsay word of an imprisoned child molester. Who would have a greater incentive to LIE, someone who had nothing to gain, or someone who would share in the theft of per capita which now totals over $300 million?  Why would Pechanga's enrollment committee choose NOT to believe Ashman, when he is quoted on their own website about the eviction of 1875.  He was not alive during the eviction, but he sure was alive when Paulina Hunter was.

We are from Pechanga, we don’t need to become another tribe, we have our allotment on the Temecula Indian Reservation and our family still lives there. Federal recognition comes only in a recognized tribe. Ask the Juanenos how easy it is, or the Tongva.

But the notion of non-Indian courts deciding who is and who is not a member of any particular tribe? OP: Indian courts are right now lobbying to have jurisdiction over non-members. Is that proper? Would the NCTIMES be editorializing about the lack of due process and rights to an attorney if their reporter was arrested?
That would represent a troubling intrusion into the tribes' traditional rights, as well as a serious violation of the American right of people to self-organize.

OP: Traditional rights include rights to belong. Pechanga’s committees, run by a few in power have made a mockery of self organization. Other tribes have done the same, such as Redding Rancheria in N. California, who eliminated a family of their FIRST tribal chairman.

Citizenship is a birthright, membership in a church is a voluntary act. Tribal laws must be followed or their should be some ramifications. Our politicians must but enforcement into the Indian Civil rights Act.  And they certainly should not award tribes that practice apartheid on their reservation with lands into trust.  They should use their bully pulpits to speak out on the injustices by tribes such as Snoqualmie, Pechanga, Enterprise, Redding, Pala, San Pascual and the worst tribe of all, the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians.
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