On Tribal Disenrollments and “Tolerance”

In light of today’s NYTs article on tribal membership, we note the curious conclusion to the article, reprinted here:

Citing a 1978 Supreme Court decision written by Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Bureau of Indian Affairs says that tribal governments have sole authority to determine membership — unless a tribal constitution allows intervention by the government. But such provisions are rare.

And some federal officials say that is exactly how it has always been.

“The tribe has historically had the ability to remove people,” said Kevin Bearquiver, the bureau’s deputy director for the Pacific region. “Tolerance is a European thing brought to the country. We never tolerated things. We turned our back on people.”

We really have no idea of the full context of this statement, but it is, to say the least, curious. Some Indian tribes tolerated multiple sexual orientations, criminal “deviance”, religion, and intermarriage. Many American Indians have no tolerance for lactose and diabetes-inducing glucose.

Do Indian tribes not tolerate outsiders, or those relatives within our midst that disagree with us politically? Hmmm.

I have argued before, and argue again here, that Indian tribes can be intolerant. They have a “right” to do so under our current understanding of federal Indian law. Intolerant tribes are weak sovereigns. They’re about exclusion and typically endorse a narrow view of what sovereignty can mean for a tribe. In that regard, perhaps, tribes are intolerant.

But most tribes, and especially the tribes here in Michigan, are not intolerant. They cooperate with the local non-Indian communities, many of their employees and business partners are non-Indians, and they are good public citizens.

I’m pretty sure that either Indian people were not intolerant before the Europeans came but we will never really know for sure, just as I bet Bearquiver regrets making such a broad generalization (or curses the NYTs for quoting him out of context).

This entry was posted in Author: Matthew L.M. Fletcher and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to On Tribal Disenrollments and “Tolerance”

  1. When I read the article I was uncomfortable with the subtle message that exclusion, totally legal under current law, was intolerant, fueled by greed on the part of the tribes. The final sentence was appalling. Do we target any other religion or race or ethnic group for such an outright criticism? No, that would be “politically incorrect.” Shame on the times for targeting the original Americans. When the NYT includes such leading comments on the evils of Sharia law, family disintegration among African Americans, or greed and indifference of the 1%, the article has to be taken as an insult. And ongoing prejudice.

  2. Heidi Adams says:

    “Many American Indians have no tolerance for lactose and diabetes-inducing glucose.”

    Thanks for making me giggle!

  3. Dennis Chappabitty says:

    I am legal counsel for 6 of 8 members of the Pala Band of Mission Indians near Temecula, CA who were disenrolled on June 1, 2011. Their blood quantum was reduced on the spot without due process. This was done despite the fact that in 1989, the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs issued a Final Decision holding their original ancestor, Margarita Brittian, had always been “full-blood” and changes lowering her Pala blood quantum were wrongfully “penciled in” sometime in the past. Their “crime” for disenrollment – they were simply members of the extended family of a member who was leveling criticism about the Tribe’s leadership and lack of financial accounting. This outspoken concerned member remains on the roll (same original descendant) while the 8 were kicked on the street by their own tribal leadership. Guilt by association. I can safely say that disenrollments/banishments to silence critics of tribal leadership who control millions of casino revenues has reared its ugly head here in the Golden State and we cannot “soft shoe” discussion on the terror it causes to innocent families caught in the “cross-fire”. Call it “collateral damage” or whatever and it is ugly: this despicable behavior cannot be protected under the disguise of tribal sovereignty and “oh, we have always done this kind of thing . . . “. No we haven’t, at least not to scare and intimidate your tribal members into silence. The Pala June disenrollments are the “poster child” for Congress to amend the ICRA. I challenge anyone to produce proof that anyone was disenrolled in the Golden State before Indian gaming. They had no tribal laws supporting disenrollments. Tell me I am wrong.

  4. Robert Doody says:

    Since when was tolerance a European idea? At the time of first contact Europeans were not a very tolerant people. Tolerance has never been a corner stone of European culture at least historically. Thank you for this article and for calling out what seems to be a truly strange statement.

  5. Lisa Coppedge says:

    woff woff come along little doggie and kiss your masters feet. When native people accept the idea that some piece of paper written and invented by the people who almost destroyed our nations as a way of defining ourselves then we have become little more than dogs or other animals that require papers to be pure blooded. I honestly think that those that came before would shake their head in confusion and shame at what we have become. Many nations long ago adopted others into their ranks. These people became members of the tribes and often gave much to them. Differing groups mixed and mated giving the peoples peace and new blood to make them strong. Sometimes it was by conquest sometimes by choice and sometimes for alliances. Now in our oh so modern wisdom we are disregarding their choices. I think that this will destroy us far more effectively then Custer or any other American General raiding parties ever could. Honestly if its about color then maybe someone should put swazticas on their arms only make it three feathers or something. Really why should someone lose their identity because one or more of their family was black, Asian or white. Its the heart and the actions of the person that determines who they are. I’ve seen full bloods act more white then many who are far less in the quantum range. Often it is those of mixed heritage that value it the most because they have to fight to be accepted. We never fit in either world and often are forced to choose which matters more. Honestly this whole idea of disenrollement is sickening to me. It saddens me that being Native has become about money rather then the wonderful heritage we should be honoring.

  6. shichils says:

    I am a member of an Oregon tribe, living these last 10 years in CA, and was appalled by the Chukchansi disenrollment – especially disenrolling the last fluent speaker of their language!

    I’ve heard disturbing stories before of some CA rancherias disenrolling people, and it always does seem to center around political disputes and power struggles (real or perceived). I don’t know what the answer would be to solve this problem. Indians don’t want the Feds telling us who can and cannot be on our rolls, but it seems like there are too many tribal governments today abusing their power by doing this. And so far, I’ve only heard of this going on in CA (with the notable exception of the ongoing legal mess of the Cherokee Freemen and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma). Anyone here of any non-CA tribes doing this?

  7. T. Roberts says:

    From the comments so far, I can see that there is much confusion on what “tribal membership” means and doesn’t mean. Specifically to the CA “tribes”, the ones in question were created out of the minds of corrupt BIA officials. The reality of becoming a “tribe” is a foreign concept to a group of people who have not lived in those tribal conditions for many generations.We have a national organization that was created for “tribes” to address the many issues that arise from the abuse of tribal rights. Its called the National Congress of American Indians.This disenrollment is one of many that need to be discussed and resolved by the many other tribal nations that are directly effected by misuse of tribal soveriegnty.

  8. I spoke with some people who know Mr. Bearquiver and they say the quote is unlike him. As one who interviewed with Jim Dao for the article, I can say that many things were left out. The article as a whole is woefully inadequate and more light needs to be shone on those tribes that have harmed their people. At Original Pechanga’s Blog, http://originalpechanga.com we discuss other tribal disenrollments, including the impending Pala and United Auburn.
    Pechanga must be happy that Chukchansi looks so bad.
    The Times article has done wonders and now maybe some investigative reporters will get on board.

  9. The Snoqualmie Tribe of Washington State has disenrolled/banished 9 people. They took their case to court and won, but the tribe refuses to abide by the courts ruling, citing sovereignty.
    Using sovereignty as a club to beat the weak and helpless is not inspiring.
    Tribe historically have disenrolled those who would be harmful to the tribe, physical violence and such. The mass disenrollments haven’t happened.

  10. john says:

    Yeah I’m with you on the fact that greed has come out of the gaming revenue, that was meant to bring our people above the poverty line, make the Tribes a healthier stronger place in the community and promote economic growth. But really it has done nothing but benefit those in leadership positions within the Tribe. I am not saying all Tribes are ran this way here in California but I sure do know that there is a lot of this greed going around. It seems that when you do find a way to fix the greed, it kicks you right in the face again and the BIA never makes a decision. We are a small Tribe and cant get past the greed. We have ex BIA people pulling strings, 2 members or may be 3 spent over 10 million and nothing has ever been done to benefit this Tribe or the community that supports its casino and people for years. There has been a long investigation and nothing has come of that either. For 3 years we have been fighting the CGCC not to release our Tribes money to 2 greedy members and so far we have been successful. But now some other member jump over to the other side and there goes 3 years of every ones time and money. For what pure greed and selfishness at its finest. Our legal council MPM dropped us like that and do they think the 1.4 million they are owed will get paid with this release of the RSTF, think again. If these people get this money and its more race cars, more $200,000 RV’s, more tax evasion, more heavy equipment bought to support their personal businesses, to go to pay old Wayne Smith and others like him who do nothing but suck the life out of small Tribes. Nothing goes to the Tribe but the bills and the children suffer. We have a casino the government had a us submit an RAP that was approved and nothing is done of that we have not had a per cap since 2002. Its a sad thing to watch go on in these Tribes especially my own with my own family doing the same thing and letting a non Indian non family member run our Tribe. I sure hope one of these Tribes sees real justice and that there is no more dis enrolling but we know that greed will
    fuel it and nothing will be done for Indians on the bottom still.

  11. Marilyn Vann says:

    The Cherokee freedmen diserollments are also about who is “controlling the money” as the freedmen tribal members vote in higher percentages than other constituencies in the tribe such as adopted Delawares, etc. Part of the reason for the disenrollment initiatives led by various Cherokee tribal leaders over the years has been to stop the freedmen from voting. However, there have been other freedmen disenrollments such as in the case of the Seminole Freedmen who were temporarily “voted out” about the year 2001 in a dispute over a judgement fund and a tribal election. Seminole freedmen also historically vote in higher percentages than other Seminole tribal internal constituencies. The BIA only intervened in the Cherokee and Seminole freedmen disenrollments (which involved Principal Chief elections and or tribal constitution changes) because of the 1866 treaties between those tribes and US government. Creek and Chowtaw freedmen tribal members were disenrolled prior to 2001.

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  13. shana barehand says:

    Should not we be call tribal members “tribal citizens” Members seems to be how some tribes are treating their people and how their people feel about their tribe. If you are a citizen of your tribe you have right and responsibilities to know your government and participate in your culture and be loyal to your people. If your a member I guess you can get kicked out of the club easier.

  14. Elisa says:

    There are numerous issues that evolve with disenrollment or not being enrolled in a tribe. Individuals who are not enrolled in his/her tribe or have been disenrolled deal with many setbacks in the development of Native American rights. Some of the current issues are:

    1. Lack of Rights
    The individual who is not recognized by his/her tribe face little to no representation under their tribal law or federal government (i.e. Indian Child Welfare Act) so they do not have fair representation under the law. This can range from social, economic, and political issues.

    2. College seat opportunities
    Affirmative Action does not apply to those Native American individuals who are not enrolled in his/her tribe. So, when a Native American applicant is applying for his/her degree program, they are most likely competing in a much larger pool of applicants than as the minority applicant.

    3. College Scholarship
    For a minority scholarship, a Native American applicant must either be enrolled in his/her tribe or have a certain blood quantum. If his/her tribe does not recognize the Native American individual, then the Native American applicant will not be eligible for the scholarship. If there is a certain blood quantum requirement, then they must meet those guidelines.

    4. Employment
    A Native American applicant who is not enrolled in his/her tribe does not fall under the “Indian Preference Act” for the job position. Statistically, Native Americans have a higher unemployment rate among the national average.

    5. Tribal Recognition & Loss of Ancestry
    Disenrollment or no enrollment in a tribe is a huge set back for the tribe and the Native American. This dwindles the tribe’s unity as well as future of sustainability of that tribe.

    If there are any more current issues, then it would beneficial to hear the other points, and debates in order to get a fuller perspective on the issue.

  15. TF says:


    Greed for maternal wealth and political power is not goof……

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