Saginaw Chippewa Banishments

From the Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun:

Tribe banishes four

The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe has begun using a very old method of dealing with problems in a new way: invoking the ancient tribal practice of banishing troublemakers from tribal lands.

“There is a historical basis and a cultural basis for it,” said tribal spokesman Joe Sowmick.

So far, the Tribal Council has banished at least four people from tribal lands. Those four include one member of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, two members of other tribes, and the most recent person banished, a non-Native man.

The banishing of Juan Garcia Romero, 37, was announced in the Jan. 1 issue of the Tribal Observer, the official publication of the Tribe. Romero reportedly had a “disruptive” relationship with a tribal member.

Romero currently is on state probation after pleading no contest to attempted aggravated stalking, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections. His conditions of probation address drug usage, gang affiliation, domestic violence and mental health issues, and orders him to wear a tether.

The formal banishing order from the Tribal Council orders Romero to stay off tribal lands.

Kent Jackson, a cultural representative for the Elijah Elk Seventh Generation Cultural Center, said banishing a person is “an extreme response to extreme behavior” and is not a decision taken lightly by Native leaders.

“This isn’t how our people are, according to the seven grandfather teachings,” Jackson said. “We don’t want this stuff in our community.” The practice of sending people away from the community dates back many generations, said Shannon Martin, director of the Ziibiwing Center for Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways.

“Banishment was decided on by the head men and head women of the various clans,” Martin said. “It wasn’t something that was done haphazardly. There was much thought put into it.”

Many other tribes also have begun using the practice of exiling wrongdoers.

The Red Lake Band and Portage Lake bands in Minnesota use the tactic occasionally to banish drug dealers. The Lac du Flameau Chippewa Indians in Wisconsin and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation in North Carolina have banished gang members and drug dealers.

In a woodland culture, being cut off from the community meant being cut off from food sources, shelter, and spiritual and family relationships.

“For the individual who was banished, it was a time they were given instruction,” Martin said.

“It was a time for them to be in solitude,” Martin said. “They could change their lives. They could change the way they were walking.’

The ordinance giving the Tribal Council the power to send wrongdoers into exile is one of the oldest on the books of the Saginaw Tribe.

It recently was updated to make clear the council claims power to send banish both members and non-members, and to make the procedure one that shows due process of law.

A formal hearing on the Romero banishment order is scheduled for later this month if Romero chooses to contest it.

Sowmick admitted that the precise definition of “tribal lands” is open to some interpretation. A federal lawsuit involving the Tribe, the federal government, the state of Michigan, the city of Mt. Pleasant and Isabella County currently is under way that may clarify exactly what that means.

“I’m certain that all of those units of government would agree that on, whatever interpretation of tribal lands there are, that there is an element that we don’t want in our community,” Sowmick said.

He said that certainly, there are areas where there is no dispute that the land is tribal, and Romero and others banished would face criminal trespass charges if they go there.

“I think the Juan Romero case can be looked at as a positive form all of these units of government,” Sowmick said, “that we don’t want drugs, we don’t want gang activity, in our community, period.”

2 thoughts on “Saginaw Chippewa Banishments

  1. Patrick S. O'Donnell January 7, 2008 / 7:00 am

    At his Legal Theory Blog, Larry Solum has posted notice of a new article by Patrice H. Kunesh: “Banishment as Cultural Justice in Contemporary Legal Systems” (New Mexico Law Review, Vol. 37, No. 5, 2007). Unfortunately, only the abstract is available:

  2. trentcrable January 11, 2008 / 10:22 pm

    FYI to those who want it: The Kunesh article is on Westlaw (find citation: 37 N.M. L. Rev. 85). If you’re near a decent law library, they’ll probably have the printed volume.

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