Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Kenneth Hansen: BIA Stifling Tribal Self-Determination, Leads To Disenrollment

Kenneth Hansen Ph.D
Our friend and Native American scholar from California State University Fresno Kenneth Hansen Ph.D,  is a guest blogger today, with this article on the Bureau of Indian Affairs and it's role in Tribal Disenrollment.
I URGE you to read and share the link on social Media


BIA stifles tribal self-determination, leads to disenrollment



Many of us have been trying to determine the root causes of tribal disenrollment for many years. Our online friend Emilio Reyes is on to something when he says that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is greatly responsible for the lack of recognition (of both tribes and individuals). Federal acknowledgement processes are as byzantine as one can possibly imagine. Renee Cramer (2007) discusses how there are no less than 30 different standards for recognizing who is Indian in the eyes of the US federal government. The acknowledgement process, despite recent attempts at reform, still takes over 30 years.

Why is it that the BIA is unable to resolve intra-tribal conflicts that might eventually lead to disenrollment or banishment of rival factions? One possible explanation is bureaucratic rigidity. In the field of Public Administration, we regularly discuss Merton’s (1957) bureaucratic pathologies, which include such scary-sounding things as the rigidity cycle, trained incapacity, and goal displacement. What seems to have happened to the BIA (from the outside looking in) is that as an organization, they have no sense of their place in history.
Rigid bureaucratic thinking does not allow for that. Historically, when tribal communities were divided, one or both factions might decide to move to a different place and establish a new village. A new tribe would be born. Let me give a couple of examples.

George Harwood Phillips (1996) describes how in 1776 California, the Quechan people were divided over how to deal with the Spanish invasion of their territory, having been among the first to be incarcerated in Fr. Serra’s despicable mission system. One leader, Salvador Palma, attempted to be an ally to the Spanish. His brother Ygnacio saw the Spanish for what they were, and attempted to move out of their reach. Ygancio had many followers who left with him over this dispute. Eventually, Salvador tired of being treated as a vassal. He saw the Spanish taking the best land and water resources, and fumed about them reneging on presents and trade agreements. Salvador and Ygnacio eventually reunited their peoples in 1781 to fight a battle against the Spanish pueblos near present-day Yuma, which cut off the land route from Mexico to California. As an aside, I always thought this plot line would make a great script for a movie.

I was told a similar story by a former student from Natchitoches (pronounced “Nacodish”), Louisiana, about the founding of the sister town of Nacadoches, Texas. Again, it was two brothers who split their people, with one group leaving Natchitoches to start a new village within the Caddo Confederacy. Eventually during colonization, one town ended up in the possession of the French, and the other in the possession of the Spanish. Both examples, one from Southern California, the other from the Texas-Louisiana border, shows how tribes break apart and sometimes get back together in a relatively organic way.

Since it seems to be at least an occasional occurrence that tribal communities fracture or sunder, one might think that there would be a government plan for such contingencies, but there’s not. The BIA treats tribal societies—reservations, rancherias, and pueblos—as static, sedentary communities, when historically and pre-historically the reverse was true. Indigenous peoples frequently moved, split apart, and came together again, depending on desire or circumstance. No longer free peoples, American Indians are confined to lands that are often not our historic territories, or banished to urban settings through practices like termination.

Though we allegedly live in the era of self-determination (which might be coming to a close given recent events, but that’s another subject), the BIA still behaves like a colonial agency. When tribes have irreconcilable internal political differences, such as with the Chukchansi legitimacy crisis, there should be a mechanism for an amicable divorce between factions. Current policy refuses to recognize such splits within tribal communities, because once a group has been recognized, they cannot be re-recognized in another form. In other words, if a faction of a tribe is disenrolled, banished, or exiled, even if they keep family allotments or are in possession of trust land, they cannot be recognized as a new tribe by the BIA. It is expressly prohibited. There is a process for re-recognizing terminated tribes. Perhaps something similar could be established for when factions become sundered from the parent group under certain conditions. If they need help, I’d be happy to write it up for them.

However, perhaps responding to the preferences of already-recognized tribes that do not care to share limited resources, or perhaps not wanting to share resources themselves,* BIA administrators choose to not acknowledge new tribes if they can possibly avoid it. An example is the recent decision to not recognize the North Fork Mono Tribe (not to be confused with neighboring North Fork Rancheria) despite the fact that the tribe has 15 family allotments that have been in their possession for several generations, under the auspices and regulation of the BIA. If they own tribal land, and the government recognizes that, how is the tribal government still not recognized? According to the Honorable Chairman Ron Goode of the North Fork Mono Tribe, the BIA doesn’t have a reasonable answer to that question. Indeed, the courts have been better at reestablishing terminated tribes, and the Congress has been better at recognizing tribes, than has the BIA in recent years.

I think it says something when the Congress—which is ponderously slow on most days—can act faster than a government agency staffed with professionals and tasked with overseeing the very process at which they seem to be increasingly inept. A bill was recently introduced to the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees Indian affairs, to take the BIA’s recognition power away from them and leave it in the hands of the Congress. I don’t know about the chances of it passing, nor if it is even a good idea. At the very least, it would be appropriate for the relevant committees in both houses of Congress to oversee this paternalistic agency much more closely.

To conclude, the bureaucratic rigidity cycle at work in the BIA makes it a terribly unresponsive agency. While tribal communities tear themselves apart from the inside-out with disenrollment between rival factions, the BIA dithers. So much so that Congress may take back some of their powers. Other agencies, such as the National Park Service, make a great effort to be flexible in dealing with changing tribal demands. Can the BIA decolonize and become a partner instead of an overlord? That would be a pretty tall order at the present time. However, the federal government needs to create more flexibility when it comes to dealing with dispossessed Indians. This should include ways to recognize the disenrolled. As with many policy problems today, we have solutions, we just lack the political will to implement them.

*The late Senator John McCain once had the Senate Indian Affairs Committee research what the BIA did with their annual budgets. They found that the BIA kept 75 cents of every dollar allocated for Indian Country. 

6 comments:

Reinstatement_Restitution said...

The problem is that the BIA is corrupt and BIA officials accept "contributions" in exchange for favoritism. The laws that govern recognition were fatally flawed because they allowed the BIA to delay or deny recognition so long that people would give up. The BIA recognized this and revised the Part 83 process so that it would operate to more quickly terminate tribes that apply for recognition. The political climate in America towards Indians is one of status quo. The tribes that currently exist can participate in federal programs and services, disenroll members, and reap the benefits of tribal gaming. New tribes had better have a treasure chest to buy influence or face termination.

Otherwise it is business as usual. Indians can commit crimes against other Indians without repercussion. The federal government's attitude is to let it be a free for all unless it goes outside the reservation. Investigations extend endlessly and never result in indictments. Federal Courts protect the sovereign immunity of corrupt tribal leaders. The BIA regularly colludes with tribal leaders to promote corrupt agendas. No one sees anything wrong with the status quo because those in power benefit from tribal leaders "contributions."

This has been going on for a long time. Congress does not care. Courts do not care. Federal agencies do not care. American citizens do not care. Indians do not care about what happens to other Indians. I don't want to sound pessimistic because there are other options to explore. Maybe there will be a break in the near future that will open the door to change. Look to the future...

Anonymous said...

Not to mention that the BIA does not go to reservations and see the result of disenrollments. The government does not see the results of disenrollments. The only people who see it are the ones disenrolled. And the path to try to get re-enrolled is exhausting, financially burdening, and almost impossible. You do learn a lot about the deep corruption in the government though. It is like visiting somewhere like North Korea,the bad is not seen, the evil is not seen, the truth is hidden or just ignored. The Government sees the disenrolled as troublemakers. Because of Sovereignty, the Individual Native American, has no rights, only tribal leaders and tribes do. The BIA is impossible to beat and no one investigates them, That would be an American Greed series in itself.
It used to be that the one thing that white man could not take from the Indians was their sense of family, The "no matter what" if you are blood, then you are family and you will always be family, you can fight, you can hate, you can hurt, but in the end you were still family and their was forgiveness and re-uniting. This is no longer true. Green is thicker than blood. It has become the enrolled vs disenrolled. It has built a hate so strong between some of them, all over the lies that tribal leaders spread out so that the disenrolled not only lose their tribal identity but also their family identity. The enrolled shun the disenrolled and get an attitude that they are better than their own relatives that they use to be close to. The courts only help to perpetuate the hate. Some tribes may never be the same, they have lost the Indian Way, the love, the community of family feeling no matter what. The white man has won, they have destroyed the one thing that natives could still pride themselves on, that "blood bond". The Casino's have proven to be the destruction of the native core in this country, that was probably the BIA's motive in the first place.

Anonymous said...

The government could help by eliminating sovereignty between a tribe and an individual indian especially a member or an ex-member. The money is just too easy for the BIA to put their hands on and take advantage of the situation. They do not care that lives have been destroyed. Whole families are struggling just to have a place to live, watching all their things being taken from them, their identity stripped from them, their tribal rights gone, their enrolled families turn their backs on them, and they are called the troublemakers. While rogue leaders and the BIA members like Amy are fixing it so that the disenrolled suffer even more, giving false paperwork and misleading their superiors. Their lawyers never lose and they know it. The hundreds of millions that have been stolen from legitimate members is one thing, but the shoving it in their faces is disgusting, cruel, and totally uncalled for.
Let the BIA come to the reservations and stay for a while and truly see their damage. Let them stay with someone who gets disenrolled, let them live with them through the whole process and experience the pain and agony from the first letter, to getting all the paperwork in order (needing some from the BIA who does not want you to have it), to watch them being told lies while they are going through major depression and anxiety over the whole situation, to seeing the tribal executive committee (not the tribe) go against the tribal laws and decide that they are out, without looking at any of their proof of blood or disregarding the truth all together with the idea of a hateful rumor(a lie) that was spread at one time in the past, to seeing the reaction to receiving the final letter, then experience what they had to deal with, all of the crap that follows, the complete loss of everything and the complete loss of everything for their siblings, and for any family of theirs that they helped. Maybe then they would understand what their actions have helped to manifest. It is sad, painful, and degrading to be unjustly disenrolled, but it is even worse when the entity that is there to help them is the same entity that actually helped to let them be disenrolled. Thanks BIA, thanks Amy, thanks Amy's family, you have personally been responsible for the destruction of thousands of natives and their families, you must be so proud. May God have mercy on your souls.

Anonymous said...

Screw mercy on their souls, may God send them straight to Hell where they truly belong.
May they burn forever and ever in the fire pits of hell, they have earned the horns so let them pay for their intentions to hurt real Native American Indians.

Kenneth Hansen said...

Thank you all for reading my article and for your thoughtful comments. My sympathies go out to the disenrolled. May Creator, your spirit helpers, and your ancestors keep watch over you. Never stop fighting! Never give up!

Anonymous said...

Great and very insightful article, thank you for your diligent work and getting the word out.