Published April 3, 2017
For the second time in as many months, a Northern California tribal community has reversed course and reinstated tribal members who had been disenrolled.
Late last week, the Elem Indian Colony announced that the purported disenrollment of as many as 132 tribal members, who comprise 100% of the Colony’s population, was reversed.
In February, the Robinson Rancheria reversed the 2008 disenrollment of some 60 tribal members.
Robinson was the first tribe of nearly 80 tribes that have engaged in disenrollment, to voluntarily bring everyone who was disenrolled back onto the rolls.
The two tribes’ actions, coupled with modern decisions by other tribes to constitutionally prohibit disenrollment, suggest a reversal in the deadly trend of disenrollment that has overcome Indian Country in this era of Indian gaming and economic revitalization.
With California “the epicenter of the disenrollment crisis” over the last decade, Elem and Robinson’s decisions to reverse course seem especially pivotal.
Meanwhile, in Tucson last month a first-of-its-kind conference convened, bringing together tribal leaders, academics and advocates to discuss the disenrollment epidemic and its potential cures.
As chronicled by Indian Country Today Media Network, several Tribal Chairs openly participated in the “two-day forum discussing tribal kinship, Native Nation citizenship, and tribal disenrollment by exploring questions that relate to citizenship and community-belonging in Indian country.”
That discussion by tribal leaders was historic because as Ramona Band of Cahuilla Tribal Chairman Jospeh Hamilton bravely explained in 2015:
[N]obody in tribal leader circles is willing to talk about [disenrollment]. Not at NCAI, not at NIGA, not among Southern California tribal leaders, not anywhere.
As that tribal taboo ebbs, the tide turns against disenrollment.
Gabriel S. Galanda is the managing lawyer of Galanda Broadman, PLLC, in Seattle. Gabe is a descendant of the Nomlaki and Concow Tribes, belonging to the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Northern California.