Dear Senators, Congresspersons, and Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs,
Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and Senator Martha McSally of Arizona fought hard to add provisions for funding of tribal health needs in President Trump's stimulus package signed Friday March 27th.
While many Native Nations deserve and need funds, all tribes do not have the same or even similar needs. Populous tribes that do not have gaming revenue like the Hopi with over 15,000 citizens are not on the same footing with small tribes like the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation who share revenue from a successful casino with 36 citizens. Due to disparity in population and economic stature I am suggesting that not every tribe be considered equally.
As sovereign nations each tribe should be considered individually, and some tribes should not be considered at all, or moved to the bottom of the list. Tribes such as the Pechanga Band of Lusiseño Indians in Temecula CA, Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians of Coarsegold, CA, Nooksack Tribe of Deming, Washington, and Pala Band of Mission Indians in North San Diego County, CA, are among the most egregious violators of civil and human rights in Indian Country and should not be receiving federal funds that enable them to harm their own citizens.
Tribes are semi-dependent sovereigns and their right to determine membership is inalienable. However, when tribes refuse to follow tribal law, or the Indian Civil Rights Act and deny tribal members the full rights of due process, they are wielding sovereignty as a club. Sharyl Lightfoot, PhD University of Minnesota wrote a decade ago on the role of sovereignty issues in tribal matters, specifically in the matter of the denial of treaty rights and disenrollment of the Cherokee Freedmen:
“In order to be sovereign nations, we must act like sovereign nations. But that does not mean that in order to support self-determination in principle, we need to agree with every decision of other sovereign nations. Nation-states in the international system do not always agree with the internal actions of other nation-states, yet they nearly always accept the principle of the equal sovereignty of all nation-states within the international system (with certain notable exceptions like the Iraq invasion or humanitarian interventions). When a nation-state, a group of nation-states, or private citizens of other nation-states disagree with the internal actions of another nation-state, there are a number of possible avenues of action.
First, sovereign nation-states can register a diplomatic complaint with the government of the offending nation-state. This is done all the time in the international system. The U.S. Department of State often drafts and delivers letters of protest to the diplomats and officials of other governments over areas of disagreement. Likewise, the executives of our indigenous nations have the right, if not the moral responsibility, to send letters and make phone calls of complaint directly to the executives of the Cherokee Nation, expressing their concern over the disenrollment decision. This can be done while supporting the inherent right of an indigenous nation to determine its own membership.
Another tactic which can be employed by other indigenous nations or the private citizens of other nations is the art of moral persuasion, or ''moral suasion,'' as it has also been termed. This involves a campaign of exposure and embarrassment. (OP: This is what we've been pursuing for 9 years now)
This tactic has most often been employed in international human rights campaigns, with the purpose being to expose the immoral government action in the media and open up international discussion in order to embarrass the target government into changing its policy to better conform to international norms.
This was done in the early days of the campaign against apartheid in South Africa and has been used often by groups like Amnesty International to urge governments to stop human rights abuses.”
The U.S. federal government has not made any statement to discredit the practice of disenrollment even when tribal leaders have failed to observe the Indian Civil Rights Act or tribal law which they have sworn to uphold.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sympathized with the plight of tribal members whose tribal citizenship was revoked without due process in Jeffredo v. Macarro (D.C.No. CV-07-01851-JFW 2009), but ruled that the court lacks jurisdiction to overturn tribal decisions. Read the dissenting opinion here
Sympathy is appreciated, but giving money to tribes that have a record of civil rights violations puts discretionary funds in the hands of tribal leaders to use against their own people. Even worse is providing funds to tribal leaders without oversight. This is tacit approval that tribal leaders are competent and capable of making just spending decisions and the record shows otherwise.
The best form of oversight would be to distribute stimulus funds based on number of members, with non-gaming tribes receiving the lion’s share of the funds.
Gaming tribes will tend to use stimulus funds the same way they use gaming revenue. The obvious intent of the stimulus act is to help those who have been harmed by the measures in place to address the pandemic, not to provide a stop gap for gaming revenue. Unless there is effective oversight in place to insure the money reaches those who have been harmed it is best not to put money in the hand of tribal leaders who use disenrollment to increase their own share of gaming revenue.
PLEASE consider not giving unjust tribes, any stimulus. Disenrollment tribes have stolen over ONE BILLION DOLLARS in per capita and benfits from those they disenrolled. WHY would they need more.
Thanks to Paul Johnson for assistance with edits