Virginia Timmons, pictured at left, was an original allottee of the Redding Rancheria. Her daughter Lorena Butler, seen on the right, was disenrolled by the tribe, based in California. Photo courtesy Cam Foreman
> Cam Foreman: Human rights abuses continue in Indian Country
Human rights abuses continue in Indian Country
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
By Cam Foreman
The following is the text of a letter sent to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, National Congress of American Indians President Fawn Sharp, and members of
the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States.
We are at a crossroads in United States and Indigenous history.
For the first time we have Indigenous people leading Departments of the Federal Government that were formed for the purpose of controlling and exterminating Indigenous peoples. It is time to demand that Indigenous Americans receive the same human rights protections as those who have arrived in the U.S. over the last 500 years.
Through national Indigenous leadership, our country is reckoning with its imperialistic history and injustices still suffered by our country’s first peoples. Our country is finally acknowledging federal Indian boarding schools where Indigenous Parents, Grandparents, and Ancestors faced unimaginable abuse, hardship, and death. Our country is contending with today’s epidemic of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). Our country is also coming to grips with the reality that Tribal nations have not always been on the right side of history. Some Tribal nations owned slaves until the 1860s. Other Tribal nations violated their own peoples’ civil rights once the U.S. formed reservations in the 19th century.
But the U.S. and the National Congress of American Indians have failed to recognize the human rights violations that thousands of Indigenous citizens have suffered in modern times and continue to suffer in 2022 despite the country’s racial reckoning. National Indigenous leaders remain silent when their colleagues in Tribal offices violate human and civil rights guaranteed to Tribal citizens in U.S. treaties and statutes and federal Indian Reorganization Act constitutions.
When it is Indian men who commit sexual violence against Indigenous women and girls or Tribal political actors protect those predators, where are the federal and national cries for MMIWG? When our children’s birth rights are being stolen by Tribal political actors in order to preserve per capita wealth, where are the federal and national cries for Tribal citizenship protection? When our families, Elders, children, and even ancestors are disenrolled without due process, where are the federal and national cries for Indigenous human rights protection?
When it is Tribal members whose voting rights are stripped by autocratic regimes, where are the federal and national cries for voting rights protection?
Tribal sovereignty should not be used as a shield to hide these Indigenous human rights violations that are happening right here in America. “Sovereignty” was the word southern state segregationists spoke in the 1950s. “Sovereignty” is the word autocrats in banana republics speak when the United Nations intervenes to prevent human rights abuse.
It is not a sovereign act to violate any human’s body, liberty, or freedom. As a military veteran, I did not serve My Country, State, and Community so that the first people of these lands could have their most important rights violated without any legal or political protection.
A U.S. Navy portrait of Bob Foreman Sr., left, is seen next to a U.S. Marine Corps portrait of his grandson, Cam Foreman. Photo courtesy Cam Foreman
Indian gaming has brought economic opportunity to Tribal nations like no other industry in American history. Like Many of the eisenrolled, my elders and ancestors grew up without electricity, running water, or even toilets in their homes on the Reservation. Gaming dollars have helped elevate many Tribal nations from third-world status. But gaming dollars have also degraded or destroyed so many Tribal nations, especially in California where thanks to PL 280 law and order is lacking.
In California, thousands of Tribal members have been disenrolled by Indian politicians who use per capita money to build and maintain their fiefdoms. Autocrats like Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians Chairman Mark Macarro (the current NCAI Vice President) and Pala Band of Mission Indians Chairman Robert Smith have engaged in “red collar” crimes against Indigenous humanity by disenrolling and exiling their political opponents. Hiding behind Tribal sovereignty and immunity, they have violated their own relatives’ birthrights and other human rights with impunity.
Wielding millions of gaming dollars, they have bought and paid for politicians’ silence, from Sacramento to Washington, DC. They and their millionaire Tribal lobbyists have recited the mantra, “it’s an internal matter,” over and over again, to convince any concerned governmental official or staffer to shy away from the human rights abuse happening right here in America. They have succeeded; the corruption has only gotten worse.
Disenrollment is not unique to California Indian country. Politicians for over 90 Tribal nations have disenrolled as many as 10,000 Tribal citizens in all regions of our country. The disenrollments are almost always motivated by gaming per capita monies and rarely involve any due process of law for those being disenrolled.
My family is among the disenrolled. My Grandfather Bob Foreman was the first Chairman of the Redding Rancheria after our tribe was re-recognized after being terminated in the 1950s. My Grandfather dedicated his life to serving all of California’s Indigenous peoples, especially through Indian health care services. He was a founder of both the Shasta Trinity Siskiyou Rural Indian Health Project and the California Rural Indian Health Board.
In 2004, after Redding Rancheria inquisitors spent two years pushing a baseless conspiracy disputing my Great-Grandmother’s heritage, they demanded she and her Mother both be exhumed for DNA testing while bringing forth NO supporting or corroborating evidence of their own to dispute their heritage. Our Matriarchs were exhumed and DNA tested, resulting in proof by a 99.9% certainty we descended from them.
Despite that and other indisputable documentary evidence, such as Federal and State Records and rolls and even a Statement of Support from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, our family was denied Due Process, including our Tribal Constitutional Right to vote during the Disenrollment Procedure, and Disenrolled anyways. It was never about evidence or proof of our belonging. It was always about the consolidation of gaming money and political power.
Tribal nations have a right to determine membership. Myself and many others do not contest that. But Tribal Nations do not have the right to violate their own Tribal constitutions and laws to violate their own peoples’ human rights with impunity. When that happens, the U.S. takes steps to prevent human rights abuse. The U.S. should not allow federal “638” and other taxpayer dollars to fund human rights abuse.
Thirty-three years ago Russell Means testified before Congress about the “rampant graft and corruption” within Tribal governments and federal “self-determination.” Little has changed.
In addition to protecting federal taxpayer dollars from being misspent, the U.S. has a moral obligation and trust responsibility to enforce and protect the rights of Tribal nations as well as the people who comprise those nations. If Tribal nations want to be treated like other nations, they must be held accountable in ways like the U.S. and United Nations treat autocratic nations. Diplomatic pressure must be exacted. Economic sanctions must be delivered. Domestic Indigenous human rights abuse can no longer be allowed.
We and thousands of Indigenous persons like us have begged for our Trustee’s help while federal officials and NCAI leaders have stood and smiled with Tribal politicians who have persecuted their own people and committed Indigenous human rights violations right here in the U.S. Now we demand federal and national inter-tribal accountability. It is time for our national Indigenous leaders to either stand with the people, or be complicit in the human rights abuse.
The eyes of our Elders and Ancestors are upon you. May the Creator guide you.
Cameron Maxwell Foreman has served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a veteran of the California Army National Guard. Hailing from the Pit River people, he is a disenrolled descendant of Virginia Timmons, who was an original land allottee of the Redding Rancheria in California.