Sep 2, 2015 - Grand Ronde Tribal Court Upholds Mass Disenrollment
Judge relies on ancestor Treaty Chief’s execution by U.S. Army before reaching the Reservation to terminate 86 Indians; 7 deceased
September 1, 2015
GRAND RONDE, OR – The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon Tribal Court has upheld the disenrollment of 86 Grand Ronde Indians. The terminated members each descend from Chief Tumulth, signatory of the Treaty forming the Tribe.
In the Tribal Court’s decision, Judge David Shaw, a private practitioner in Portland, relied on what he called a “pseudo-residency element” and Chief Tumulth’s “lack of relocation to the CTGR area.” Chief Tumulth did not “relocate” from the Tumulth family’s traditional home at the Cascade locks to the Tribe’s reservation because he was executed by the U.S. Army in April 1856. Nothing in the Tribe’s Constitution requires a “pseudo-residency element” nor does it call for “relocation.” In fact, as the Court admitted, the Tribe has long claimed Tumulth as its founding Treaty Chief to advance its governmental interests in off-reservation lands along the Columbia River.
“At its core, this decision is wrong on two points. First, the Treaty is undoubtedly a record of the Tribe’s membership; and secondly, we also descend from Chief Tumulth’s wife Susan Tomolcha, who appears on the 1872 Tribal Census roll,” stated family spokesperson Mia Prickett. “The judge relied on differences in the spelling of Susan Tomolcha’s name, and then went ahead and misspelled her name in his written decision.”
“Ironically this activist judge used the U.S. Army’s execution of my grandfather to justify his termination of my tribal status today,” Prickett added. “Speaking of execution, that’s exactly what happened to my family. Even our deceased relatives were terminated and it is disgusting.”
The latest disenrollment effort at Grand Ronde comes after a sharply divided Tribal Council accelerated the disenrollment process in 2014. Following sweeping “Emergency Amendments,” the Tribe disenrolled several tribal families. Decisions on appeals filed by families and individuals other than the Tumulth family came down over the last several weeks, and Judge Shaw upheld the Tribe’s disenrollment efforts in each instance.
The disenrolled Tumulth family members—seven of whom have walked on, were also disenrolled without the courtesy of a notice to their descendants. All members descend directly from Chief Tumulth, the first Chief of the Watlala band of Chinook Indians and signatory to the Tribe’s Treaty, and his wife Susan Tomolcha, whose name validly appears on the 1872 Grand Ronde Indian Census.
Over the past three years, the family has repeatedly presented numerous certified state documents to the Enrollment Department, Enrollment Committee, Tribal Council and Tribal Court, demonstrating their right to tribal membership. In addition, their right to belong has also been supported through expert testimony from Tribal Culture Protection managers, tribal elders, the former Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, and past tribal council members.
According to testimony provided by Eirik Thorsgard, former Cultural Protection Manager for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, whom the Tribe terminated shortly after his supporting testimony for the descendants of Chief Tumulth, the Treaty of 1855 is a qualifying record of Grand Ronde members because “…the Executive Order that created the Grand Ronde reservation in 1857 specifically states and references back to the Willamette Valley Treaty and not to any other treaty.” Thorsgard continued to state that, “[the Treaty] is a record because of the Executive Order, and serves as a viable record of connection only for the treaty signer and his descendants.” The Court rejected Thorsgard’s expert testimony.
Upon signing the Treaty, Chief Tumulth ceded his lands to the United States Government in exchange for a safe, permanent home for his people. “We are his descendants, and we have a legal right to that safe home. Grand Ronde claims his lands as part of the Tribe’s ceded lands, but now they terminate us,” says family member Russell Wilkinson. “It isn’t right to claim the lands but not claim the people who come from those lands”.
Disenrollment is shocking for this family considering the Grand Ronde government used several members of the family descending from Chief Tumulth to fight other Tribes’ development of casinos in the Columbia River Gorge.
“The Tribe used our family to testify at public hearings and Grand Ronde used their claim to our ceded lands to successfully fight against casino projects in Cascade Locks, Troutdale, and La Center, WA. Apparently they don’t need us anymore,” continued Wilkinson.
Members of the family intend to appeal the Tribal Court’s decision.