Disenrollment epidemic affects dozens of tribes across the nation

Voices from the national campaign against tribal disenrollments. Photos: StopDisenrollment.Com

The disenrollment epidemic is the subject of a lengthy feature in The New York Times Magazine.

According to professor David Wilkins, upwards up 9,000 people -- including deceased individuals -- have been removed from their tribes in the last two decades. By his count, 79 tribes in 20 states have engaged in disenrollment activities.

But getting someone to do something about it has been troublesome. The federal courts remain extremely reluctant to intervene in "internal" tribal matters and the Bureau of Indian Affairs almost always avoids getting involved except in extremely high-profile disputes.

“It would be like Oregon saying to Washington, ‘You’re not managing your affairs properly,’' Ron Allen, the chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, told writer Brooke Jarvis for the story.

But the situation could slowly be changing due to pressure from Native activists and Indian lawyers, some of whom have had their professional careers threatened because they have challenged tribes in their own judicial systems. The BIA and other federal agencies, for example, have warned the Nooksack Tribe about holding meetings, taking actions and convening elections without including all of their citizenry.

Chairman Bob Kelly, though, doesn't seem bothered by the negative attention. He continues to believe that The Nooksack 306 and others who have been removed from the rolls aren't even Indians.

“Nobody stepped forward and claimed them!” Kelly told The Times Magazine. “You don’t show up and just insert yourself into someone else’s family tree.”

Read More on the Story:
Who Decides Who Counts as Native American? (The New York Times 1/18)

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