May 27, 2015 - Red Tide is Turning Against Tribal Disenrollment by Gabriel S. Galanda


This spring there has been a surge of tribal public opinion against the practice of tribal disenrollment. The tide of tribal public opinion is dramatically turning on that non-indigenous mode of Indian self-termination, and those tribes and tribal leaders who extinguish their kin.

Most recently, Marty Two Bulls drew and pubished this political cartoon:

While Two Bulls had done so before, in 2013 (see “Self-Termination” here), his latest cartoon was inspired by Professor David Wilkins latest commentary, “The Sovereignty of Everything, The Power of Nothing.” Prof. Wilkins—the most longstanding anti-disenrollment advocate—writes:

Tribal politicians and jurists who work to disenroll legitimate Native citizens justify their perverted behavior by wrapping themselves in the cloak of sovereign power, often described as sovereign immunity, and then declare that this protects them from their own people. . . .

But . . . “sovereignty as a right to do as one pleases is part of the concept, but not sovereignty as anarchy, not sovereignty as resistance to cooperation. And not sovereignty as immunity.” This term, he noted, was wrongly used to excuse “immunity from law, immunity from scrutiny, immunity from justice.” Sovereignty does not mean that leaders are above the people.

In 2015, Two Bulls and Wilkins have been joined by a host of other disenrollment critics and commentators:

  • The National Native American Bar Association “denounce[d] any divestment or restriction of the American indigenous right of tribal citizenship, without equal protection at law or due process of law or an effective remedy for the violation of such rights” and declared it “immoral and unethical for any lawyer to” aid and abet such human rights abuses;

  • Two state bar association Indian law chapters, in Washington and Arizona, are featuring discussions about how to afford legal remedies to disenrollees, at their annual meetings in Seattle and Phoenix, respectively;

  • Indian legal historian and critical-race theorist Professor Rob Williams tackled the subject on Native American Calling, saying simply:

This month, Ryan Dreveskracht said our piece by publishing an Arizona Law Review article, “Curing the Tribal Enrollment Epidemic: In Search of a Remedy,” which Prof. Williams describes as “the most important, and most thoroughly researched and argued treatment of the tribal disenrollment available in literature . . . a must read for all of Indian country.”

Meanwhile: Hollywood, through Native actors, is increasingly portraying Indian Country through the negative light of disenrollment—most recently in the show The Red Road, starring Jason Mamoa.  Leading tribal—and tribally owned—media outlets like Indianz.comPechanga.netNative News Online, and Indian Country Today Media Networkincreasingly allow free speech to reign over the once-taboo subject.  Indian law blogs Turtle Talk and Law360 have gotten in on the act too. And with every like, share and tweet, social media Natives are saying “enough is enough.”

There is no doubt that the red tide is turning against disenrollment.  It is only a matter of time before a tidal wave of tribal public opinion washes over the colonial practice—and hopefully washes it away.

Gabriel S. Galanda is the managing partner of Galanda Broadman, PLLC, in Seattle. Gabe is an enrolled citizen of the Round Valley Indian Tribes.

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