Published January 6, 2016
Word on the Telegraph is that the “Chinook Nation” is proposing to disenroll a slew of members who do not reside near Chinook headquarters in Bay Center, Washington.
Chinook itself reports that:
the Chinook Indian Nation General Assembly voted to maintain a moratorium on new enrollments, except new births, while Tribal Members have an opportunity to consider enrollment policy amendments to be voted on at the General Council Meeting in June and at a Special General Council Meeting in July, 2016.
“Enrollment policy amendments” is reportedly code for disenrollment of those who will not meet proposed new residential membership requirements.
Chinook explains that their “enrollment numbers have since  grown from roughly 1,200 to 3,100 members,” seemingly believing that they must pare down their rolls in order to achieve federal recognition by Executive Order.
The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina recently did the same thing: Imposed geographic membership requirements (i.e., visits to Lumbee headquarters in Pembroke) in order to pare down their rolls asthey seek federal recognition from the Congress. Lumbee then quietly disenrolled their kin.
The unrecognized Amah Mustun Tribal Band of Central California has also disenrolled members as they seek federal recognition.
Imposing residential or geographic criteria for tribal citizenship is certainly a preferred alternative to relying on federally imposed tribal membership criteria tied to blood quantum or federal censuses or rolls, but such criteria should be imposed prospectively for new citizenships—and never retroactively to cause disenrollment and divestment of the absolute tribal citizenship right.
In any event, mass disenrollment is just not the look that an unrecognized tribe wants as they plead for federal recognition. And it is rather unfortunate that a tribal group would terminate their own people in order to be “legitimized” by the United States.
Gabe Galanda represents Indian peoples, practicing law in Seattle with Galanda Broadman, PLLC. He descends from the Nomlaki and Concow Tribes, belonging to the Round Valley Indian Confederation.