Grand Ronde Tribes to disenroll 86 descendants of treaty signer

A descendant of Chief Tumulth visits the grave of the chief's youngest daughter. Photo from Grand Ronde We All Belong / Facebook

The descendants of a chief who was put to death barely a year after he signed a key treaty can be removed from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

Chief Tumulth joined the 1855 Willamette Valley Treaty that promised a reservation for the Cascade, Kalupuya, Shasta and other tribes. But since his family didn't immediately move there before or after he was "wrongly executed" in 1856, his descendants are not eligible for membership, CTGR Judge David Shaw determined.

"Although many Cascade Indians did become members of the CTGR, and Chief Tumulth and his descendants were eligible to become members if they do desired and relocated, there still existed a requirement for CTGR membership that the relevant individuals relocate to the future CTGR Reservation to qualify for CTGR membership," Shaw wrote in the 18-page decision.

"Chief Tumulth did not ever relocate to the future CTGR Reservation, and thus merely had eligibility for CTGR membership that was not effectuated," the decision continued.

The late Ida Altringer served as elder grand marshal for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde prior to her passing in 2008. After her death, the tribe's enrollment committee disenrolled her. Photo from Grand Ronde We All Belong / Facebook

The ruling means the tribe's can proceed with the removal of 86 of Tumulth's descendants from the rolls. According to the tribe's enrollment committee, they are unable to demonstrate ties to a base roll that was created in 1872 -- well after the chief was executed by the U.S. Army for allegedly participating in an uprising.

“Ironically this activist judge used the U.S. Army’s execution of my grandfather to justify his termination of my tribal status today,” family spokesperson Mia Prickett said. “Speaking of execution, that’s exactly what happened to my family. Even our deceased relatives were terminated and it is disgusting.”

Although Chief Tumulth wasn't on the roll, Prickett and her family said his wife Susan Tomolcha was listed. However, Shaw refused to set aside what he said was "substantial evidence" presented by the enrollment committee that questioned Tomolcha's tribal status.

“The judge relied on differences in the spelling of Susan Tomolcha’s name, and then went ahead and misspelled her name in his written decision," Pickett noted.

The descendants of Chief Tumulth met for their 45th annual picnic on his ceded lands in July 2014. Photo from Grand Ronde We All Belong / Facebook

The ruling came a day after Shaw dismissed a slew of challenges to the tribe's removals of deceased people from the rolls. In six decisions, the judge said posthumous disenrollments do not violate the enrollment ordinance or "cultural norms" that suggest people who have passed should be left alone.

"The enrollment ordinance is far from a picture of clarity on addressing deceased individuals on the membership roll related to living individuals that are subject to independent notice and process prior to disenrollment," Shaw wrote in one of the cases. "Petitioner alleges thematically within its petition the cultural norms in Indian Country regarding treatment of the deceased and related obligations and duties of the living to protect and honor the deceased."

"However, these cultural norms do not dictate that the tribe has exceeded its constitutional authority to administer the tribal membership rolls, and enact a tribal enrollment ordinance that fails to provide a process for how deceased members are removed," Shaw continued.

The disenrollments of deceased individuals has drawn considerable scrutiny in Indian Country. Professor David Wilkins criticized tribes for targeting people who can't defend themselves.

Council chambers of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon. Photo from Grand Ronde We All Belong / Facebook

"The very fabric of the cosmos as we have always understood it is being assaulted in this macabre fashion through recent attempts, some successful, by several Native governments to engage in the loathsome practice of disenrollment of deceased tribal members," Wilkins wrote in Indian Country Today in March. "By doing so, current officials may then more easily wield the legal authority to disenroll descendants who are currently enrolled tribal citizens."

The National Native American Bar Association has taken notice as well. A resolution issued this year explained that tribes -- while retaining the sovereign right to determine their own identity -- should protect the due process rights of people who face disenrollment.

The resolution, which was adopted at the organization's annual conference in April, said it is "immoral and unethical for any lawyer to advocate for or contribute to the divestment or restriction of the American indigenous right of tribal citizenship, without equal protection at law or due process of law or an effective remedy for the violation of such rights."

Some tribes are indeed making changes to address what is being called a disenrollment epidemic. The Spokane Tribe of Washington outlawed disenrollment altogether through a constitutional amendment that was supported by the people and members of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria in California changed their constitution to make the process more clearer.

Participants in #stopstribalgenocide protest at the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Riverside, California. Photo from Original Pechanga / Twitter

For the group being removed at Grande Ronde, the next step in the process would be the tribe's appellate court. The court has published just two decisions in enrollment cases since 2003, according to the tribe's official document repository.

Chief Tumulth's descendants also could seek to change the enrollment ordinance. But once they are removed it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to participate in the tribe's political processes.

“We are his descendants, and we have a legal right to that safe home. Grand Ronde claims his lands as part of the tribe’s ceded lands, but now they terminate us,” said Russell Wilkinson, who is among those being removed. “It isn’t right to claim the lands but not claim the people who come from those lands."

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Alexander v. Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

Tribal Court Decisions:
Val Alexander et al v. CTGR | The Estate of Arthur Williams v. CTGR | The Estate of Becky Grenia v. CTGR | The Estate of Carroll Grenia v. CTGR | The Estate of Dan Altringer v. CTGR | The Estate of Debbie Grenia v. CTGR | The Estate of Ida Altringer v CTGR

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