Wednesday, December 17, 2008

TRIBAL DISENROLLMENT: Robinson Rancheria Moves Forward with Disenrollments


Late last week, certified letters that dozens of Robinson Rancheria Band of Pomo tribal members were dreading began to arrive.
Sent out to several dozen Pomo, the envelopes contained resolutions for each person, passed in a 3-0 vote held by the Robinson Rancheria Citizens Business Council on Dec. 5, informing them that they had been disenrolled from the tribe and their names removed from its rolls.
The resolutions were signed by Tribal Chair Tracey Avila and Secretary-Treasurer Kim Fernandez on Dec. 10.
Avila had previously told Lake County News that 60 of Robinson's 347 tribal members had been under consideration for disenrollment.
On Tuesday, she said six people had proved their lineage and so were allowed to retain their tribal membership, while several more had asked for special consideration to be able to secure documents proving their lineal descent from tribal members on the tribe's original rolls.
EJ Crandell, who was elected tribal chair in June in an election that was decertified by the tribe's election committee, has asserted that as many as 74 tribal members faced disenrollment, and supplied Lake County News with a list of about 50 names of people who he said had confirmed receiving the disenrollment resolution.
Crandell's wife's family was among those disenrolled. He said he's concerned that he and his immediate family may be next.

Gone for the people receiving the resolutions are free access to the rancheria, health care services, food services for homebound seniors, pensions and per capita payments funded by Robinson Rancheria Resort and Casino. Some were fired from jobs before the disenrollment resolutions were approved, which Crandell and other tribal members critical of the council said were retaliatory actions. Avila denied that, saying the firings were based on poor job performance and were unconnected to the tribe's action.

Most of the disenrollees don't live on the rancheria, said Avila. Those who do live on the rancheria are concerned about losing their homes, but Avila said the tribe doesn't plan to take action to remove them because the homes were funded through a program that supports Indian housing. “We can allow them to live there,” she said.
Among those removed from the rolls include the entire 35-member Quitiquit family, which includes decorated veterans, and traditional artisans and basket makers.
Avila said the people who were disenrolled have been “on the table for many, many years.”
The council changed its enrollment ordinance because it conflicted with the tribe's constitution, said Avila. A provision in the enrollment ordinance was removed that had allowed for membership in the tribe through adoption of individuals whose names appeared on a 1940 tribal census roll and their lineal descendants.
Avila said the council is trying to clean up its ordinances in order to stabilize operations.
She traces the tribe's issues with its rolls back to termination of tribes in the 1950s and 1960s, when many tribes lost land and federal recognition. Many Indians didn't have a place to go and some were adopted into other tribes, such as Robinson.

Avila said the tribe has to take care of its own members first before they can help anyone else. The goal is to use the proceeds from Robinson Rancheria Resort and Casino to help the tribe, but Avila said the casino – while it's an important revenue source – doesn't pull in the kind of business found among the bigger gaming tribes' casinos.
Crandell and other opponents of the disenrollments allege that Avila and the rest of the business council – Curtis Anderson Jr., Kim Fernandez, Stoney Timmons, Nicholas Medina and Buffy White – are taking the actions ahead of a January election for the tribal leadership. They said the members who are disenrolled supported Crandell's election.
Avila denies that. “It just happened at this time,” she said. “I wish this had been dealt with earlier.”

Also just taking place are additional payments to existing tribal members, who reportedly each received $400 checks in the last few weeks. Avila said those payments are not connected to the disenrollments. She said she considers the disenrollments an internal tribal matter, and doesn't understand why anyone outside of the tribe should be concerned about it.

On Saturday, the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization – AIRRO for short – held a board meeting in Upper Lake to discuss strategy for assisting the tribal members who received the disenrollment resolutions.

AIRRO President John Gomez, whose family was disenrolled by the Pechanga tribe, is helping lead the families through the process of appealing their cases to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Robinson Rancheria's 1980 constitution calls for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' involvement with determining tribal membership.

Article 3, Section 3 states: “The official membership roll shall be prepared in accordance with an ordinance adopted by the governing body and approved by the Secretary of the Interior or his authorized representative. Such ordinance shall contain provisions for enrollment procedures, enrollment committees, application form, approval or disapproval of application, rejection notice, appeals, corrections and provisions for keeping the roll on a current basis.”

In his experience – both personally and working with AIRRO – Gomez said disenrollments usually occur before important tribal elections.
The other important function of the Saturday AIRRO meeting was to offer hope and support to people whose worlds have been turned upside down by the tribe's actions.

Gomez agreed about the pain and the trauma disenrollment leaves in its wake.
“You never get used to this, even though we've lived through it. You never get used to this, even when it happens to other people,” he said.
He said he and other AIRRO members realize it's their responsibility to help other Indians facing life without their tribe, “but it never gets easy.”

Gomez said it was hard to see the Quitiquits – who had become a part of the AIRRO family long before they were disenrolled – face this now. “When this happened here, it became personal for us,” said Gomez, who was with the Quitiquits when they began receiving their disenrollment resolutions late last week.

A crisis exists in Indian Country as a direct result of the disenrollments, said Gomez.
AIRRO pledged to assist those cut out of Robinson's membership. “We'll fight with you, we'll fight for you,” Gomez said. “And you guys are going to win. I believe that in my heart.”
Robinson Rancheria's constitutional clause giving the BIA authority over tribal membership gives the Quitiquits and the others fighting for their memberships a unique opportunity to appeal the tribal council's decision, said Gomez.

Over the last five years, AIRRO and its support network of advocates and attorneys have been able to create some inroads and awareness in the California Legislature, Gomez said.
As a result, earlier this year they were able to help stop SB 331, introduced by state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles) and supported by the Barona Tribe of Mission Indians, a Southern California gaming tribe.
The bill would have created a new infraction with fines if a person was found guilty of trespassing on tribal lands. While the bill was in the Assembly a clause was inserted that would mean it didn't apply to former tribal members, after which the bill was pulled. Gomez said the bill was meant to oppress disenrollees.
“The courts have not been our friends,” he said. “The courts have always deferred to sovereignty.”
He said a 1978 US Supreme Court ruling in Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez the court deferred to tribal sovereignty and in doing so took away the rights of individual Indians to sue tribes for Indian Civil Rights Act violations.
That, in turn, has set the stage for the kinds of human and civil rights violations which AIRRO says is scarring Indian Country now.
“This is a sad day because it's continuing to happen,” he said.
He told the disenrollees, “The worst thing that could happen is for you to just lie down and accept it.”
BIA will look at appeals

Earlier this month, Lake County News ran a three-part series on the disenrollment issue. On Dec. 5, the first day the series ran, North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson wrote a letter to BIA Regional Director Dale Morris, citing the Lake County News article and his concern over his local Indian constituents facing disenrollment. He asked Morris about what recourse is available for Indians who are disenrolled.
The issue arose locally just as Thompson was being discussed as a possible interior secretary candidate in the cabinet of President-elect Barack Obama.

“Congress has the ultimate authority to decide whether or not any federal agency is going to have the authority to review or overturn those types of things,” Burdick said.
BIA doesn't currently have the general authority to intervene and Congress – which is aware of that problem – isn't ready to grant the BIA more latitude, said Burdick.

However, the BIA is getting involved in the case of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, whose tribal constitution – like Robinson's – also allows the BIA a role in membership issues. Late last month the BIA halted that tribe's attempt to disenroll between 60 and 80 members.
Robinson's disenrolled members currently are in the process of sending appeals to the BIA. Burdick said the appeals will be sent to him first.

Robinson's disenrollment does, however, provide the BIA – and Burdick himself – with a very rare situation, especially if the tribal council refuses to accept the agency's ultimate opinion on the disenrollments.
Just what the BIA would do in that case is hard to predict. “I can't say whether there will be any sanctions or not,” Burdick said.

See the Lake County News Link for the full story


Anonymous said...

Instead of trying to find technicalities or making them up to get rid of people, tribes should find a way to live together.

I think we should take as an example the Pala Band of Mission Indians in North San Diego county, Ca.

In a glass case near one of the main entrances to their casino is a brief history of the Pala tribe.

It states that Pala was originally populated by the Luiseno people but in 1903 another group of local Indians, the Cupeno, were moved off of their land near Warner Springs to the Pala reservation.

The Pala tribe considers after over 100 years both groups to be part of the tribe and the people who were there first aren't all of a sudden claiming that the second group should be disenrolled.

I think Pala is an example other tribes should follow.

The Robinson Chairwoman saying that the timing right before elections wasn't intentional.

What does she think everyone is naive and that we should just believe her?

We have seen this sort of twisted reasoning happen time and time again in tribes up and down the state and in other states as well.

What makes me think that the so called evidence against the disenrolled wouldn't hold water in a real court of law?

Well because it has happened in so many other places already.

Creeper said...

It just does not matter how much
prove of ancestry you have, these corrupt tribal members do not care, to them this is only a political game.
Money and political power is what's important to them and
human decency is not in their DNA.

"Twisted Sister Avila" should be proud to join other tribal criminals like her, who used the same lying scheming tactics to oust longstanding families from their tribes.


Anonymous said...

To quote one of the enrollment commettee members speaking to a Hunter member... "it dosn't matter what kind of evidence you provide, your still going to be disenrolled".

Anonymous said...

Ironcially the Hunter family of Pechanga was likely there before some of the people who voted them out of the tribe.

It can be verfied that the Hunters were not only on the original reservation but with the people before the reservation was created.

On the other hand the famlies who's members were on the Enrollment Committee who were the deciding votes who voted the Hunters out of the tribe don't appear to have been at Pechanga during the late 1800's, the time the reservation was created.

The requirment is to be a descendant from an original Pechanga person and it is from the late 1800's, not the 1900's. which the Enrollment Committee claimed the Hunters were not.

One of those family's direct ancestor appears as a young child on the Pechanga reservation census records after 1900 even though she was born before 1900 and the woman they claim as their direct ancestor's mother is listed in the Pechanga census records before 1900 as being married to a different man then their direct ancestor's father at the time of their direct ancestor's birth.

So are they blood of the tribe?

Also, another Enrollment Committee member who was one of the deciding votes in kicking the Hunters out of the tribe has her direct ancestor on the census records at Pechanga after 1900 but listed as living on the Soboba reservation in the late 1800s, not at Pechanga.

So are they Pechanga or are they Soboba?

The Hunters opposition had as their main argument that only Oral Tradition can prove membership, that paperwork cannot do so.

These people may be descedants of local Indians but are they Pechanga and is that why they insist on Oral Tradition and not paperwork?

We would have had no problem with those other people staying in the tribe if they have had a presence with the people since the early 1900's and we could have stayed one tribe as Pala has.

We would have never came after them for disenrollment if they hadn't come after us first.

By the way, as I have mentioned in other posts, some of my family members counter filed disenrollment challenges to the families that accused us of not being Pechanga and these were the deciding votes that kicked us out of the tribe.

Thess families were cleared with less than a legal quorum on the Enrollment Committee and then were allowed to vote on my family's case, a violation of the equal protection clause in the Pechanga constitution.

Anonymous said...

Add on to my last post:

One of those family's direct ancestor appears as a young child on the Pechanga reservation census records after 1900 even though she was born before 1900 and the woman they claim as their direct ancestor's mother is listed in the Pechanga census records before 1900 as being married to a different man then their direct ancestor's father at the time of their direct ancestor's birth.


That family's direct ancestor is not on those records so are they Pechanga?

Anonymous said...

Plaintiffs )
v. ) Case No.: 1:03cv01711 (HHK)
) Judge: Henry H. Kennedy
DIRK KEMPTHORNE, Secretary of the ) Docket Type: Civil Rights
United States Department of the Interior, ) (non-employment)
CHADWICK SMITH, Individually and in )
His Official Capacity, and )
Defendants. )
….The BIA’s determination to recognize the results of a Cherokee
Election in which Cherokee Freedmen citizens had been illegally prevented from exercising their right to vote is a breach of the BIA’s fiduciary duty….”
I post this because I want to discuss the point of the BIA’s “fiduciary responsibility to the dis-enrollees separate from their acknowledgment of tribal sovereignty. I’m not quite convinced that they need new acts from Congress to convey to the tribes that it is to the U.S.’s best interest to continue to recognize dis-enrollees as citizens/members of specific tribes. Tribes removing legal tribal status from individual members has far reaching consequences on how the U.S. will approach, legal, educational, medical, land rights, etc. if that person is still deemed to possess those native rights under U.S. law.
BIA officials who are also citizens/members of tribal sovereign nations must not allow a conflict of interest between tribal sovereignty and their fiduciary duty as federal officers. While respecting tribal sovereignty, BIA officers still have the responsibility to represent U.S. interest in the government to government relationship with tribes, even without a constitutional clause or a treaty.

Anonymous said...

Any members of our family, the Hunters of Pechanga, who have gone through probate for a share of our ancestor Paulina Hunter's land allotment received an official Dept of Interior document that says the following:

NOTICE IS GIVEN "That on "Specific Date" a decision was entered in the estate of "Deceased Person's Name," a deceased Luiseno Mission (Pechanga Band) Indian, a copy of which is attached hereto."


Clearly the BIA still considers us Pechanga even if our tribe now does not.

What we can do with this information, I don't know, but what I have stated is fact that is officially docmented.

Anonymous said...

The question as I see it is; Can the tribes absolve the federal government of it's legal agreements with tribal members by dis-enrolling them? I think the answer is, No!
Though the tribes as seperate sovereigns may absolve themselves of any legal relationship with a member by dis-enrolling them, the tribes can not absolve any legal relationship a tribal member may have with the federal government on behalf of the federal government. This would include who the federal government agrees to recognize as citizens of a tribe.
If it were accurate that the Federal government leaves membership solely up to the tribes , then the following prosecutions covered at this link,
would not have happened.
I will paraphrase an important statement from this link which says that the BIA denied recognition for this fake tribe because it had no historical characteristics, etc. It also said that even if they did recognize the tribe, tribal granted membership to an illegal alien would not confer U.S citizenship to the member. This is a point demonstrating that how the U.S. recognizes a tribal citizen can be independent of how a tribe recognizes a tribal citizen

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Lee, number one for caring about what happened to us, and number two for continuing to bring up relevant legal points.

In the case of our tribe Pechanga, they violated their own constitution, which states under Article V, "It shall be the duty of all elected officers of the Band to uphold the individual rights of each member without malice or prejudice."

By allowing Enrollment Committee members and tribal councilman whoose families had been accused of wrongdoing by our family members to vote on our disenrollment cases and who also had been challeged themselves of not being legitimate tribal members by our family members our rights under Article V of the Band's constitution were violated.

By the way, both of our family members' actions were lawful under tribal law.

My question is, isn't it true that since tribes have to have their constitutions okayed by the BIA and when changes are made to those said constitutions, shouldn't the BIA also be involved when those same tribes violate their own constitutions?

Maybe we have something there but in practice, as I have been closing a lot of my posts, BUT IF NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBES SUCH AS PECHANGA DON'T EVEN FOLLOW THEIR OWN LAWS, WHO CAN MAKE THEM DO SO BECAUSE OF SOVEREIGNTY?

Anonymous said...

Two pivota terms apply to this discussion, jurisdiction and recognition. I'll come back to them.
The law is always at the behest of the person or people in power. Those not in power are subject to it. When the law no longer serves the person or people in power they change it to serve them. I recall an old poli.-sci. lesson the states that the majority agrees to be governed and the minority is protected by it, hence, fair laws for everyone.
Tribal laws have always been considered by the federal government as under tribal jurisdiction. If the tribe isn't violating federal laws then generally there is no federal recourse. I think you have good ground to challenge in a tribal council or court, but those in power refuse to adhere to the principle of fair laws protecting the less powerful. You may still have the legal standing as a tribal member under tribal law, but how you assert that standing would take some strategy.
Now to my favorite word, recognition. The BIA could determine not to recognize any dis-enrollments by any tribe if it chose to. It could also choose to continue to recognize dis-enrolled tribal members as legitimate tribal members and continue government to government relations with them. As I mentioned in the earlier post, the federal government reserves the right to recognize whom they wish, regardless of what occurs as an internal tribal action. I would still want to ask the BIA if they act on the premise that a tribe has the sole authority to terminate an Indians federal recognition. Do they recognize tribes only or do they recognize the tribal citizens as well.
If they recognize tribal citizens and those citizens dis-enrolled than the BIA, (feds) need to continue those relationships and sanction those tribal governments that stand in the way of those relationships. If the dis-enroolees can get the BIA to take a postion on this I think they would have gained another answer to your question, Who can make them abide by their own laws?

Anonymous said...

In 2007 Carl Artman, then head of the BIA, was asked on a call in show that exact question.

Who can make tribes follow their own laws if they choose not to?

His response was for the injured parties to seek relief within the court system or internally within their tribes.

So he didn't really answer the question.

But what are we to do if as disenrolled people we have no standing within our tribes and outside courts so far say they have no jurisdiction to hear cases that are considered internal tribal matters?

By the way, among the things our family members pointed out to the tribal council that those Enrollment Committee members who ended up voting us out of the tribe of doing was not processing applications of enrolled members of certain families.

Some of our family members likely ended up in the moratorium because their applications were not processed when they were submitted.

So in effect those Enrollment Committee members on their own accord started the disenrollment process while we were still legally enrolled members and no challenges had even been presented to our tribal membership.

Their attitude was that they were dead set against enrolling people from "those families."

Total bias as their minds were already made up before our tribal membership credentials had even been challenged.

Again, a violation of Article V of the Pechanga Band's constitution.