Saginaw Chippewa Tribe’s Court of Appeal Rules in Favor of Tribe on Disenrollment

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“We are merely honoring and executing the requirements of our constitution” – Chief Steve Pego

Published August 25, 2015

ISABELLA INDIAN RESERVATION—The Court of Appeals for the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, based on the Isabella Indian Reservation in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, issued  its decision on August 18, 2015 concerning the issue of whether or not the Tribe can reopen previously dismissed disenrollment cases. Tribal Court Appellate Judges, Robert Kittecon, Andrew Pyatskowit and Dennis Peterson unanimously ruled that the Tribe can reopen prior dismissed disenrollment cases where the basis for disenrollment is that the members enrolled under Article III, Section 1(c) of the Constitution do not lineally trace.

Under the Tribe’s Enrollment Ordinance No. 14, the Tribe may disenroll Tribal members if the Tribe can show that the enrollment was a mistake or fraudulent.  In an earlier case decided by the Appellate Court on August 27, 2013, the Court held that only lineal tracing is permitted under Article III, Section 1(c) of the Tribal Constitution.

The Court’s ruling on August 18th now allows the Tribe to proceed with disenrollment proceedings on those persons previously dismissed who the Tribe alleges do not lineally trace to an enumerated Constitutional Base Roll.

The Tribe argued that the cases should be allowed to be reopened in light of the clear interpretation of the Constitution provided by the Court’s decision in 2013 that only lineal tracing is permitted by the Tribe’s 1986 Constitution. The Court agreed with the Tribe stating that “[r]etroactive curative rules are acceptable because of the strong public interest in a fair government system”. “The Appellants failure to demonstrate a particular violation of the Saginaw Constitution or ordinances is fatal to their case” and “We have repeatedly stated that the Court’s jurisdiction is limited to matters which affirmatively assigned under tribal law, and that the delegation of the constitutional review responsibility does not “import carte blanche powers upon this court to supervise the manner in which the Tribal Council performs its constitutional responsibility”  are two of the very strong statements said by the Appellate Court.

The people who are the subject of disenrollment proceedings have the benefit of  hearings and evidentiary process through the Office of Administrative Hearings pursuant to the Tribe’s enrollment ordinance.

“Our Community needs a détente (the easing of hostility or strained relations), throughout our community. The Tribe has been struggling with these enrollment issues for many years and has developed a very extensive procedural process and safeguards to provide due process to Tribal members while protecting the ability of the Tribal government to fulfill its Constitutional obligations.  We cannot strip the rights of individuals to be Native.  We are merely honoring and executing the requirements of our constitution so what is best for the many is best for our Tribal community. That is what is traditional” stated Tribal Chief Steve Pego.

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