Descendants of treaty signer back on rolls of Grand Ronde Tribes

Ida Altringer, a descendant of Chief Tumluth who was once revered as an elder within the Grande Ronde Tribes, was disenrolled after her death in 2008. While some of the living descendant's of the chief have since been reinstated, those who have passed on haven't been put back on the rolls. Photo from Grand Ronde We All Belong / Facebook

A dispute that helped draw nationwide attention to the disenrollment epidemic in Indian Country has resulted in victory for the descendants of a treaty signer.

With little fanfare, the descendants of Chief Tumulth rejoined the rolls of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde on Monday. The move comes after years of litigation that sparked deep divisions within the Oregon tribe and drew negative attention to its leadership.

"WE BELONG! We have finally been restored to FULL tribal citizens!" the descendants wrote on Facebook on Tuesday after learning of the reinstatement decision.

Smoke Signals, the tribe's official newspaper, confirmed the decision in a story posted online on Tuesday. Tribal citizens were still at odds over putting Chief Tumulth's descendants back on the rolls even after the tribe's highest court ruled in their favor, editor Dean Rhodes wrote.

"The decision that was rendered yesterday, whether you agree or disagree, it took a lot of weight off of all of us," Chairman Reyn Leno told Smoke Signals.

WE BELONG! We have finally been restored to FULL tribal citizens! Our hands are up to all the friends and family who...

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Leno had raised eyebrows after he appeared to question the integrity of the Grand Ronde Court of Appeals and vowed to call the judges into council chambers to discuss their August 5 decision in the matter. In a publicly-accessible post on Facebook, he said he was only speaking "as a tribal member" but his request could be seen as an attempt to undermine the independence and impartiality of the tribe's judicial branch.

And while the tribe's enrollment board has followed the court's ruling, Leno's views are shared by others at Grand Ronde. The dispute was a topic at a general council meeting held on Sunday, just a day before Chief Tumulth's descendants were reinstated.

"No court should force a sovereign nation to break its own constitution and laws," citizen Brenda Gray said at the meeting. "This court is telling us we do not have a right to determine who our own members are."

The tribe historically has been transparent about its activities. Court decisions, along with council agendas and other records, have long been available online. Videos of key meetings are frequently posed on the tribe's website.

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

But media coverage led to calls for less disclosure. The tribe and its attorneys accused the Galanda Broadman law firm, whose attorneys represent Chief Tumulth's descendants, of violating a gag order after posts about the controversy appeared on Indianz.Com, Turtle Talk, Last Real Indians and Oregon Public Broadcasting.

At issue were tribal court briefs posted by the influential Turtle Talk blog and links to those briefs that appeared on Galanda Broadman's social media pages. Turtle Talk later removed links to the briefs but posted a new set of documents after the descendants won their case in August.

"Our hands are up to all the friends and family who have supported us, to our lawyers at Galanda Broadman who fought so brilliantly with us, and to our ancestors who have always been with us," the post on Grand Ronde We All Belong read. "We could not have successfully endured the last three years without you."

Chief Tumulth was among the signatories of the 1855 Willamette Valley Treaty, which promised a reservation for the Cascade, Kalupuya, Shasta and other tribes that make up the Grand Ronde confederacy. But, in an earlier stage of the case, a tribal judge noted that he was "wrongly executed" by the U.S. Army less than a year later -- allegedly for participating in an uprising in Washington Territory.

Chief Tumulth was killed before he had a chance to move to the reservation that was promised by the treaty. He wasn't able to join a base roll that is used to determine membership either. As a result, his descendants were served with disenrollment letters in 2013.

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The Grand Ronde Court of Appeals, however, noted that the chief's descendants had been previously enrolled in 1986, three years after the tribe was restored to federal recognition. By waiting 27 years to kick them out, the tribe imposed a major harm on the descendants, the court's decision stated.

Despite the victory at Grand Ronde, most disenrollment cases don't result in success for the hundreds of people who have been ousted from their tribes in recent years. The federal courts, federal agencies and Congress typically take a hands-off approach to tribal membership issues.

The situation has slowly been changing through the efforts of the Galanda Broadman firm, the Stop Disenrollment national campaign, the National Native American Bar Association and activists like Rick Cuevas, who was removed from the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians but was unable to address his situation in a meaningful way -- enrollment matters are controlled by the tribal council and can't be reviewed independently.

Cuevas is taking part in a Stop Tribal Genocide event in Sacramento, California, to call attention to the issue. Participants are meeting at the State Capitol building on Thursday and at the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional office on Friday.

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