Jan 28, 2016 - Tribal Per Capita Poverty–How About Disenrollment Bankruptcy? by Gabe Galanda

In November, [2014] a [Las Vegas] Review-Journal reporter and photographer encountered one of the disenrolled, 52-year-old Darla Hatcher, sleeping with her meager belongings in front of an upholstery shop in the homeless corridor.

By way of introduction, she gestured toward nearby tribal land and said: “I am a disenrolled Paiute.’”


Thanks to some wonderful scholarship by Seattle lawyer Greg Guedel about the socioeconomic impacts of tribal per capita monies, The Economist has cast a bright light on the topic. Guedel’s research found that:

From 2000-2010, gaming Tribes in the Pacific Northwest that did not issue per capita payments to their members did better in reducing poverty rates than the gaming Tribes that issued per capita payments.

In other words, tribal per capita monies are not alleviating Indian poverty; they are exacerbating it.

Indeed, the apportionment of tribal communal assets and distribution of those assets to individual tribal members is, by the United States’ design, a mode of tribal termination and Indian assimilation. See Tribal Per Capitas and Self-Termination (“Tribal per capita payments are a creature of the United States and its Indian termination policies.”). This dynamic dates back to the mid-1800s, although we as American indigenous people act oblivious to that genocidal reality.

To be sure, tribal per capita distributions are presently catalyzing the most severe form of Indian poverty: Disenrollment and exile from one’s tribal community–and at epidemic levels.

As Professor David Wilkins explains:

Disenrollment takes an obvious financial toll . . . But it also can psychologically devastate former members. It leaves them in a tenuous place of being betwixt and between. They know they still are what they are claimed not to be. I just feel for them.

Surely other Indians feel for their brothers and sisters who have been spiritually, financially and otherwise bankrupt through disenrollment. Right?

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. Follow Gabe at @NDNlawyer

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