Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cedric Sunray: Tribes Turn a Blind Eye to Racism

Cedric Sunray looks into the enrollment policies of the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana:

Census records of Chitimacha Indians clearly identify the ancestors of today’s black Chitimacha families. One such person, Edolie Darden, is listed on the 1900 Census, as are two of her children. She is a direct blood relative of the current seated chairman of the tribe, John Paul Darden, as well as councilman Toby Darden. When I spoke with Edolie Darden’s great-grandson, Chester Collins, he said, “The Chitimacha Tribe's current membership process unfairly discriminates and denies tribal membership to the Darden/Collins/Popleon family, the direct lineal descendants of Frederick and Marie Darden, Alfred Darden, and Edolie Darden. Our aunt Augustine Collins Hines applied for membership in 2001 to no avail as the current enrollment process bars our family and other mixed-Black Chitimacha descendants.”

A look at the historical record would lead any rational person to believe this statement is accurate. On July 30, 2014 a letter of redress was received by the Chitimacha Tribal Council from the descendants of Edolie Darden requesting a change in the current membership process. Included in this letter were historical documents that unequivocally proved the Darden/Collins/Popleon family legitimacy as the descendants of Chitimacha Indians.

An August 27, 2014 response letter from Chairman John Paul Darden offered no change in their current membership policy. He instead chose to evoke the BIA as well as the Interior Department in his response when he pointed out, “We will address those applications in accordance with our BIA approved enrollment ordinance.” In effect, “sovereign immunity” was being used to end any legal contestation. This exclusion ran contrary to a 2009 Constitutional amendment by the Chitimacha to reduce their enrollment criteria from 1/16 Chitimacha blood ancestry to that of lineal descent. Nearly 200 individuals of mixed-white ancestry joined the ranks of the tribe at that time.

One has to go back to the years between 1903 and 1918 to understand the situation fully. During this time, mixed-black members of the Chitimacha tribe were ushered off the tribe’s reservation, and in 1919, those who remained were party to an annuity roll. “Black” Chitimacha names no longer appeared, despite much prior documentation attesting to their inclusion within the tribe. Another annuity roll was crafted in 1926 that continued this legal disassociation. This last annuity roll, coupled with the revised Census Roll of 1959, is now used as the official documentation needed to gain membership into the tribe.

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