Ramona Band of Cahuilla Chairman Joseph Hamilton speaks out about disenrollment. I have added some commentary and links. Thank you for standing up, Mr. Chairman.
Lately, I’ve become concerned that another unhealthy legacy of federal Indian policy is becoming “tradition” in Indian Country.
I’m talking about disenrollment.
In Southern California, where my tribe calls home, disenrollment is common, in part because of big gaming revenues and internal power struggles. It is also a symptom of the breakdown of traditional tribal power structures. Simply put, some tribal leaders listen to lawyers instead of elders. OP: At Pechanga, some of the corrupt splinter group leaders threatened to dig up our elders...
I am worried that in another generation the disconnect will become so great that tribal councils will view disenrollment as just another traditional political tool. I am worried that we are on the verge of enshrining a new Indian “tradition” of irresponsible and malicious disenrollment.
We must not let that happen.
Obviously, disenrollment involves tough issues. I know the deep pain disenrollment causes, as I have met and talked at length with those who have been kicked out of their tribe.
Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in tribal sovereignty,OP: Remember when Ramona's sovereignty was attacked by other tribes? which does include a tribe’s right to disenroll members. However, disenrollment is not an innate right of tribal peoples; it was foisted upon tribes by the federal government in order to extinguish us. But disenrollment is a tribal right nonetheless. I suppose a tribe has the right to extinguish itself, like some did in the 1950s, if it so chooses. OP: But, WHAT IF IT DOESN'T CHOOSE to? What if the tribe says NO MORE disenrollments, and the corrupt council does it ANYWAY?
The point is not that we can’t hold contradictory views about this issue, but instead that we better start talking about disenrollment and finding solutions before it’s too late. Unfortunately, nobody in tribal leader circles is willing to talk about it. Not at NCAI, not at NIGA, not among Southern California tribal leaders, not anywhere.
I fear that if we don’t talk and, more importantly, take some form of action, we run the real risk that Congress will exercise its “plenary” power over tribes and decide who is Indian—an idea almost too scary to consider.
My position is this: The current flurry of disenrollments must stop so we can all have dialogue and find solutions.
If I am ever given a chance to share my opinions on the subject with my fellow tribal leaders and other relatives, I will say this:
Disenrollment weakens the People, individually and collectively. Former tribal members lose their identities, their culture, and their benefits. Sometimes they lose their jobs and their homes. They struggle to put food on the table.
Tribes also suffer. Those that disenroll members often face great instability, economic problems, and create the potential for political backstabbing that may last for generations.
Again, disenrollment is not tribal. The concept is based on U.S. government policies of assimilating and terminating Indians. Tribes engaged in these practices are simply doing the dirty work of those people who have wanted to kill off Indians for the last several hundred years.
Nor is blood quantum—the measure many tribes use to determine membership—traditional. The federal government created the scheme for its own benefit. I personally think blood quantum should play some role in determining who is an Indian. Others think lineal descent should be enough. Tribes need to re-evaluate what makes sense for them.
Disenrollment should be executed only in the most extreme cases. Tribal leaders considering disenrolling members absolutely must keep in mind what those individuals and the entire tribe stands to lose. They need to recognize that the entire tribe suffers when members are kicked out, especially entire families.
Tribal governments must be thoughtful when carrying out this supreme act. Due process is key. Tribes should develop clear laws, policies, and procedures well in advance of any disenrollment. Then they should honor those rules and procedures, even if they don’t get the outcomes they want. That is sovereignty.
Tribal leaders should pressure the BIA to get involved. After all, the U.S. created disenrollment, and the BIA carried out that act for at least the last century. The agency’s insistence that it can only sit back and say, “there is nothing we can do,” is shameful. At the very least, the BIA should be a curator of records, and make those records available to tribal members fighting to retain their identities and to remain where they belong.
Tribes may want to consider whether the customary practice of banishment better suits their traditions, rather than disenrollment. Banishment can work, and it doesn’t create the loss of identify and benefits that disenrollment causes.
My own grandfather was banned from his tribe for almost a decade because of a domestic situation. Eventually, our tribe allowed him to return, and by then the community had healed and moved on. He was still Indian, always.
But the practice of banishment, like disenrollment, can be abused. Again, due process is key.
If ever the current frenzy of disenrollments stops, we will need time to heal. Until then, we need to evaluate whether disenrollment has a place in our cultures. If the answer is yes, we must develop more thoughtful policies and procedures. But this analysis can only happen if we start to talk to one another, as relatives.
Failure to take these steps will mean that every Indian faces the threat of not being an Indian. More tribes will become like country clubs, instead of families, where members can be added or excluded at the whim of a governing board.
At that point, we become as traditional as our fry bread.
WELL DONE, Mr. Chairman, WELL DONE
Great words and thoughts, thank you for speaking out against the heinous crime of disenrollment. Hopefully Indian Country can be healed and brought back to the true Indian Way.
TRUE and we'll shared. ALL band members have rights, our Ancestors created us, we should honor them ALL.
Wow, kudos to you for standing up in an environment where every one else is afraid to do and say the right thing. Disenrollments need to end and we know too well, CORRUPTION and GREED is the impetus of many of these cases. Thank you for being brave, you stand tall amongst a sea of men who aren't worthy of being called Chairman.
You all blame your leaders, but isn't it actually the General members that are alowing them to disenroll so,they get a bigger monthly check? Macarro and Smith are the ring leaders, but why don't the hundreds of tribal members put a stop to it? At Pechanga it's because it would reduce the remaining tribes monthly check bonanzas....at Pala, they are letting a certified crazy man dictate the rules. He can't cut everyone out of the tribe, yet you all sit on the sidelines in fear of him. As soon as everyone just admits it's ONLY about protecting the monthly per cap to the remaining, nothing will ever be resolved.
And Pala will be bankrupt and closed before their members finally wake up to their Chiefs actions. As long as the drugs are supplied, everything will stay the same. Are their no elders that will stand up for what's right anymore? Why not call for a forensic audit of the books before it's too late? Robert should be happy to have an audit unless he is hiding things. Hundreds of people are afraid of a few. Is that really the Indian way? But these are casino Indians, the new breed.
All crooks, Clannish ppl many are penciled in members
Bravo, bravo, bravo. Can you say this before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs?
Pechanga went against the general vote of the people and illegally disenrolled their members. It is seems like the leaders dont care about the general consensus. They care about the money. Money has been the root of all evil within tribal nations. Good read today. Kuddos.
Russell "Butch" Murphy was Adopted by the Band. Butch is an elected council member during two family disenrollment's and continues to this date. The first disenrollment was a family of approximately 200 votes who shared historical claims as part of the clan who still has members and cleared the disenrollment matter. The second disenrollment was a family with recorded history and allotment property part of the Pechanga Indian reservation with a little over 110 votes. Butch feels it's ok to not honor how the reservation was created, push that under the carpet, and take others rights away as long as he is honored. TRUE
Yes and Pechanga completely denied and rejected red ribbon certified documentation showing lineal decent to the member illegally disenrolled.
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