Professor Kenneth Hansen of Fresno State has an opinion on the legitimacy of the Chukchansi Tribe. Is this the SAME tribe as recognized by the government?
Certain people would have us believe that the political dispute at the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians is an internal matter. They couldn't be more wrong. Civil rights violations are a matter of public concern. Transparency and democracy are needed to address the issues of political legitimacy and disenrollment that are vital to all of Indian Country.
In a July 2009 conference call with Jerry Gidner, the deputy director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Laura Wass, the director of Central Valley AIM; civil rights attorney Tony Cohen; University of Minnesota political science professor David Wilkins; and I all attempted, to no avail, to get the BIA to force tribal governments to stop disenrolling their members.
We argued that this practice is a serious civil rights violation, tantamount to people being denied citizenship and being kicked out of their country. We argued that no good could come of this and it would only lead to greater problems.
Tony Cohen said that the BIA should enforce the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, designed to protect Indians from tribal governments. Gidner said that the BIA would only get involved when either, 1) there was unfair distribution of resources, and 2) when there were voting irregularities.
My question now is, what are they waiting for?
When people are disenrolled from an indigenous community, they are denied benefits and voting rights. This is an inherently political act, not unlike a gerrymander, where the politicians pick their voters rather than the other way around.
This would be like the Democrats saying they were going to revoke the citizenship of Republicans (or vice versa) so as to fix the next election. Paraphrasing Joseph Stalin, it's not who votes, it's who counts the votes that matters. Nobody should want to be compared to Joseph Stalin!
As it pertains to the disputed Chukchansi election, the people who won the election and were not allowed to assume power have had their civil rights violated as well, especially Harold Hammond.
Harold is a Vietnam veteran, and a respected spiritual elder, not just for Chukchansis, but for the greater indigenous community in the Central Valley. He was chosen by the eligible Chukchansi voters and then disqualified after the fact. That became the pretext for Reggie Lewis to refuse to hand over power to the new council.
Now instead of one seven-member council, there are two four-member councils. This created the legitimacy crisis, but one could argue about the legality of the election in the first place, given that hundreds of disenrolled citizens were not allowed to participate to begin with.
The quick fix would be for the BIA to step in and choose one of the two councils to constitute a majority of the new board. While that might make for a temporary peace, it doesn't get to the root of the problem.
Certainly the BIA, or perhaps a federal judge, needs to step in to mediate, so as to prevent more violence from breaking out and to provide for the administration of tribal government services. However, this would not address the greater problem of re-enfranchising the 500 or so tribal members who have been disenrolled over the past decade.
From what I understand, at one time the population of the Chukchansi tribe was around 1,500 people, and is now down to fewer than 1,000. That would be the equivalent of California revoking the citizenship of some 12 million people!
The real solution to the Chukchansi legitimacy crisis would be for the federal court to restore tribal memberships to those from whom it was revoked, and then hold an election in which everyone is allowed to participate.
Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2012/03/01/2743214/kenneth-n-hansen-chukchansi-legitimacy.html#storylink=cpy