From 1908 to 2009, the federal government did stand watch over disenrollment. The Department of the Interior adjudicated or reviewed disenrollment actions in fulfillment of the United States’ Treaty and other promises to protect Indigenous Americans, which constitute a “moral obligation of the highest responsibility and trust” according to the U.S. Supreme Court. [See Seminole Nation v. U.S. (1942).] In fact, until at least the late 1990s it was codified Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) policy to review disputed Tribal disenrollment determinations. BIA involvement continued for two decades after the Supreme Court’s insidious jurisdictional decision in Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez (1978). It was not until the spring of 2009 that the Obama Administration abruptly looked away from disenrollment affairs, citing “a policy of Indian self-determination and self-government.” By that time, disenrollment was largely confined to California. But that casual federal policy decision, though well intentioned, proved disastrous. Tribal politicians seized the moment. Disenrollment exploded into twenty states. Dozens of Indigenous communities were co-opted. Tribal courts were overthrown. Police violence erupted. Thousands of Tribal citizens were exiled. All of Indian Country suffered a black eye.
“It makes you really not like your people": A tribal leader speaks out against disenrollment, a dehumanizing practice that advocates say is on the rise again in Indian Country. #StopDisenrollment https://t.co/Yl3wZ9SamM— indianz.com (@indianz) January 27, 2020
By 2016, Interior corrected course. Amidst multiple federal Indian Country justice initiatives—the Tribal Law and Order Act most notably—the Obama Administration grew concerned about perceptions of Tribal justice systems as corrupt and unjust. Interior took action, making examples out of the most egregious disenrollment offenders. The agency suspended the Nooksack Tribe’s federal funding recognition amidst unfathomable disorder surrounding the disenrollment of 306 Tribal citizens; and intervened in federal court when the entire 132-person Elem Pomo Colony population faced disenrollment and exile. The National Indian Gaming Commission shuttered lucrative gaming facilities at Nooksack and the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, where the rule of law had ceded to violence and anarchy. Offering insight into the United States’ thinking at the time, immediate past Interior Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Dean Kevin Washburn, warned that Tribes engaged in “unjust disenrollment” could face federal “diplomatic consequences, which could be fiscal in nature, equivalent to economic sanctions.” Indian Country took note, and disenrollment waned. For almost three years, there was not a new disenrollment.
But that changed by late 2018. With the Trump Administration too preoccupied to stop Tribal corruption or reflect upon the real-life consequences of its actions or demurrals, Interior officials sanctioned two obviously illegal elections at Nooksack and proposed to cease BIA blood quantum determinations. Tribal despots realized the Trustee’s priorities had shifted, and took full advantage. Omaha Tribe of Nebraska politicians disenrolled fifteen citizens and placed hundreds more in harm’s way via clandestine blood quantum adjustments. A Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma conspirator terminated a three-generation family of fifteen after an elder questioned his “rent-a-tribe” schemes. The Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians disenrolled at least nine citizens based on a non-Indian anthropologist’s blood quantum “audit” findings and California Indian Legal Services’ advice. And Picayune autocrats jettisoned another sixty tribal citizens, just because they could. Disenrollment returned and Indian Country’s black eye darkened—and it is only worsening. (A forthcoming disenrollment documentary movie produced by California card-room owners, titled “Banished,” will further tarnish all Tribes’ reputations.) History shows that the United States deters disenrollment through performed duty. “See no evil, hear no evil” is not acceptable federal policy. Nor is it lawful. The United States has a moral trust responsibility, according to the highest laws in the land, to protect against disenrollment. America’s “national honor has been committed” to guard Tribes and Tribal citizens alike. [See Heckman v. U.S. (1912).] Whether through exercising federal discretion to diffuse Tribal corruption, imposing government-to-government economic sanctions, amending the Indian Civil Rights Act, or deploying other deterrent measures, our Trustee must do something. The United States must help stop disenrollment.
As we are nearing the next & possibly final #STOPDISENROLLMENT DAY— Original Pechanga (@opechanga) February 7, 2020
Do we fight?
Do we hope?
Do we pray for justice or SEEK JUSTICE for our ancestors?
Do we wait and see while our elders die without justice? https://t.co/sIQCGf9XbC@emiliotongva @Indianz pic.twitter.com/dGWYJs0ZRx
Gabriel S. Galanda is the Managing Lawyer at Galanda Broadman, PLLC, an Indigenous rights law firm. Gabe belongs to the Round Valley Indian Tribes, descending from the Nomlaki and Concow Peoples. Find Galanda Broadman on Twitter @NDNlawyer and online at galandabroadman.com. The fifth annual #StopDisenrollment visual advocacy movement will happen on February 10, 2020.
Cupeño Indians being 'terminated' a century after being evicted from homelands (August 8, 2019)
Chukchansi Tribe starts disenrollment proceedings against more than 60 citizens (June 27, 2019)
Gabe Galanda: Trump administration asks tribes about Indian blood (May 16, 2019)
'I was born an Omaha and I'm going to die an Omaha' (November 6, 2018)
A 'banana republic' no more? Nooksack Tribe claims turnaround on disenrollment drama (August 7, 2018)
Nooksack Tribe scores as Trump administration recognizes council (March 12, 2018)
Mark Trahant: Stop Disenrollment campaign returns for third year (February 7, 2018)
Judge grants reprieve against disputed leaders of Nooksack Tribe (January 30, 2018)
Bureau of Indian Affairs reaffirms oversight in Nooksack Tribe dispute (January 24, 2018)
Nooksack Tribe plans to revive disenrollment campaign despite many warnings (December 6, 2017)
Chukchansi Tribe announces open enrollment period after years of mass purges (October 3, 2017)
Nooksack Tribe clears path for new election in hopes of resolving leadership crisis (September 7, 2017)
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe wins court ruling in long-running disenrollment dispute (August 30, 2017)
Nooksack Tribe loses federal health care funds as disenrollment drama drags on (August 9, 2017)