Opinion

Opinion: Saginaw Chippewa Tribe takes aim at its own people





Attorney accuses the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe in Michigan of unfairness in disenrollment proceedings:
Chief Pego’s Tribe has systematically used “hatred and blatant disregard” for its own people. It has denied them “dignity and respect”, in addition to their very heritage as Chippewas, in a history of treatment that is truly an outrage.

How do I know this? I have represented dozens of Indians who sought to become members of the Tribe. The Tribe promised the United States Congress in 1984 that it would expand its membership rolls to include “all ¼ blood Chippewas” in return for access to massive funding. That funding has led to the current financial boom for the Tribe. “Good on” the Tribe for that. But it has serially broken its promise to those ¼ blood applicants.

As part of that Congressional compact, the Tribe passed a new Constitution in 1986. Among other things, it allowed membership to ¼ bloods who applied during “open enrolment”, an 18-month window immediately after the passage of the Constitution, and to those ¼ bloods “born to a member.”

I have a ¼ blood client who applied during open enrollment, when she was 14 years old. The Tribe denied her application on the mistaken belief that she was a member of another Tribe. Her denial letter was sent directly to her by certified mail, advising that she had “60 days” to appeal. She was not then living with her parents and did not know how to “appeal”, but later in life sought to overturn this mistake. The Tribe has denied her membership to this day even though it and their Courts agree that she complied with those Constitutional requirements and deserves membership but for failing to appeal within those “60 days.” Her great grandfather was a Chief of the Chippewa Tribe.

I have ¼ blood client who was stationed overseas in the U. S. Air Force during open enrollment, but applied within 18 months of his discharge from the service and upon learning of the Constitutional requirements. The Tribe denied his membership, even though he was unaware of, and unable to meet, the open enrollment deadline. The Tribe found no justification to allow equitable tolling of the open enrollment deadline. His four brothers are members of the Tribe.

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