Published February 6, 2019
SEATTLE — Hundreds of Indigenous peoples have used photographs of themselves assuming the powerful pose to protest disenrollment. Thousands more have liked and shared the images. The world has taken notice.
On February 8, 2019, the online visual advocacy movement Stop Disenrollment will resume for a fourth year.
Stop Disenrollment first went viral on February 8, 2016. The movement returned on that same day in both 2017 and 2018, drawing international media attention. It is again poised to raise Indigenous social consciousness this Friday.
Prominent Indigenous persons including Hollywood actress Irene Bedard, former U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Winona LaDuke, rapper-actor-entrepreneur Litefoot, film director Chris Eyre, fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail, 1491s comedy troupe member Dallas Goldtooth, and Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills, have helped catalyze the movement.
The visual advocacy movement is a grassroots indigenous reaction to tribal politicians who have exiled thousands of their own relatives from tribal communities, through a colonially inspired, terminationist practice called “disenrollment.”
Motivated by the graft and greed of tribal politicians with their hands on Indian gaming profits, it is estimated that 11,000 tribal members have been disenrolled from 80—or 15%—of the 573 federally recognized tribal governments.
In late 2018, elected leaders of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska made them the 80th tribe known to have terminated their own kin.
Dr. David Wilkins, Lumbee, the co-author of a recent book “Dismembered: Native Disenrollment and the Battle for Human Rights,” says the practice has reached “epidemic” proportion in the Indian gaming era.
Stop Disenrollment is also a reaction to silence and inaction in the face of that epidemic, by national inter-tribal organizations like the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA).
“For too long, many in Indian Country have remained silent in the face of shocking human and civil rights violations hidden behind the cloak of sovereignty,” comments Wilkins.
Citing elected tribal leaders’ aversion to exposing “our shared dirty laundry,” Wilkins explains: “This inaction has made us all complicit in these abuses–much like those in the Jim Crow south who saw the injustices but were afraid that rocking the boat would make things worse.”
Wilkins notes, however, that individual Indigenous persons and grassroots leaders “seem to be increasingly aware and willing to talk about the importance of belonging in a Native sense.”
Citing causes like Stop Disenrollment, and calling for a “return towards a more traditional, native-driven way of relating to one another,” Wilkins is pleased that “at least the subject of dismemberment is no longer a poorly hidden secret.”