Thursday, June 2, 2016

SUNRAY: The Legacy of Disenrollment

Cedric Sunray continues the discussion of disenrollment that he and others like David Wilkins and this blog have been discussing for years.  The simple act of keeping the issue out front, has helped others see the light, and now we have prominent lawyers and native journalists adding their voices.

On October 14th, 2011, Indian Country Today Media Network published an article I wrote titled, “Disenrollment Clubs.” Oh how times have changed because of the contributions and activism of too many to count.

My first contact with the issue of disenrollment occurred as a student at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, where it was brought up as a topic in an intro class which regularly debated the issues of the day. The then recent removal of the Seminole Freedmen from their tribe in Oklahoma was on the docket and there was no shortage of opinions.
As the discussion began, an identifiable Seminole tribal member stood up and spoke against the continued inclusion of the Freedmen as she felt they were Black people and not Indian. Seated next to her was a young woman who anyone would believe to be fully white. Her remarks mirrored that of her Seminole classmate. She, it turned out, was a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.

Eventually the chance to speak came to a young man who had a Black racial phenotype. He stood up in the circle and began addressing us all in Mvskoke (Seminole/Creek) for the next minute or so. He then looked directly at our Seminole classmate, invoked the band of Seminole he came from (which was one of the Freedmen bands of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma) and said, “Since I know you can’t speak our language, I will translate what I said into English for you.” I had never seen a brown face become so red in my life. The gasps from all of us were palpable. There was a great lesson in this exchange and one which has seemingly been lost on those who seek to continue the use of disenrollment as a weapon.

When most people imagine disenrollment, they tend to date it back just one or two decades and position it relative to the 70 or so tribes nationally who have partaken in its genocide during this time period. But disenrollment, of course, has existed for well over a century with roots in the Dawes Act which attempted to redefine the Indigenous community in what had become America by breaking up communally held lands; a process which fully disenfranchised some.

Another wave of disenrollment occurred in the Termination period of the 1940s-1960s. During this time, entire tribes of people, or very large segments such as the Mixed Blood Uintas, were excommunicated from Indian Country. Some of these tribes and individuals have never been reinstated. Oranna Felter, one such terminated/disenrolled Ute Indian who is now in her 70s, has spent the better part of her life fighting for the recognition of her people.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cedric Sunray is a fraud.