Imagine having your citizenship taken away from you. That's what happens when a member of a tribe is disenrolled, or kicked out, of their tribe by their tribal government even if no criminal accusation was ever made. In the past, this happened when members of a tribe committed an offense of some sort, but it was rarely permanent. These days, it's happening more and more – often by wealthy casino tribes. Less people in the tribe, more money for remaining members. And, unlike in the past, these decisions aren't being reversed.
As the New York Times reported, "In recent years, experts say, [tribes have] begun routinely disenrolling Indians deemed inauthentic members of a group. And California, with dozens of tiny tribes that were decimated, scattered and then reconstituted, often out of ethnically mixed Indians, is the national hotbed of the trend."
Data on tribal disenrollment is hard to come by because no one – including the Bureau of Indian Affairs – wants to touch such a contentious topic, according to David Wilkins, a Lumbee Indian and professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Law. However, according to Alice Langton-Sloan of the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization (AIRRO), 11,000 individual Indians' civil rights were violated by their tribe in the U.S. between 1997 to 2009. She has seen an increase in tribal disenrollments since 2009, affecting hundreds more. At least 39 tribes in California and several tribes from 15 other states have disenrolled some segment of their population.
To paint a picture of what this means for a disenrolled Indian, here are four possible consequences of tribal disenrollment:
1. You may lose your job.
If you were employed by your tribe and have been disenrolled, you may have to find work somewhere else. While many tribes do employ non-tribal members, you may have to find a new job if your position is only given to a tribal members.
2. You will have to move.
If you live on tribal land, you would likely be required to move. In most cases, only tribal members (and their spouses) may live on tribal land, so if you've been disenrolled and aren't married to an enrolled tribal member, you'll have to live elsewhere.
3. You will lose your cultural ties.
This is quite possibly the most damaging. If you grew up your entire life, learning and practicing the traditions of your tribe, to now be unable to practice them as a member of your tribe, is almost unthinkable. Imagine no longer being part of a cultural or religious celebration or ceremony that matters to you. How would you feel? Who would you be now?
"Something is ruptured when you feel that you're no longer recognized by your peoples and by your tribal government," according to Wilkins. "It's a devastating trifecta of forces that leads individuals to be traumatized."
4. You're no longer an 'Indian' according to the federal government.
Contrary to popular belief, Native Americans don't receive a monthly payout from the U.S. government for simply being Indian. However, some tribes do provide per capita monthly payouts, known as "per caps," to their members that often come from casino revenue. Disenrolled members of tribes are no longer able to receive those benefits.
For Cathy Cory, who is a disenrolled member of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, this has hurt not just her, but her children.
"My daughter was attending San Francisco State University, majoring in American Indian Studies," Cory said. "She lost her $4,000 per semester stipend, which made it very difficult for her to remain enrolled as a full time student. Ultimately, she left school because she could no longer afford her education."
Once you are no longer a member of a federally recognized tribe, you will no longer be able to receive any federal support or assistance given to Indians who belong to federally recognized tribes, which are "extensive and include a range of services comparable to the programs of state and local government," according to the Department of the Interior. Some benefits include: education, social services, law enforcement, courts, real estate services, agriculture and range management, and resource protection.
Click on the photo below for a slideshow featuring Native Americans who are grappling with the effects of disenrollment from their tribe.
We know that this is not a complete list, but is just a start. If you have been disenrolled from your tribe, please share how it has affected you and your tribal community in the comments section below.
*Amy Stretten is a member of the Chickahominy Tribe of Virginia.