LAKE COUNTY, CALIF.—132 Elem Pomo Indians, are being exiled from the 52-acre Elem Indian Colony under guise of “disenrollment” and “banishment” by a faction of off-Colony members. Those 132 Pomos comprise 100 percent of Colony residents, who, if jettisoned, would leave an empty Reservation. Despite disenrollment and banishment becoming widespread, especially in California, it would be unprecedented for a tribe’s entire residency to be exiled.
“Nobody questions our ancestry. Because who we are can’t be questioned—we descend from Elem Pomo ancestors and founders,” said Robert Geary. “This is instead a feeble attempt by non-resident members of the Elem Colony to exact control over tribal monetary resources without wanting to live here, and even at the risk of terminating our entire Colony.”
The families include the last on-Colony speaker of the Southeastern Pomo dialect; keepers of the Colony’s two Roundhouses; four Vietnam war veterans; and those who have led the Colony’s efforts regarding the Superfund cleanup of Clear Lake and to regain control over Rattlesnake Island, a sacred Elem religious site. Tribal members are being targeted because they voted against the purported Elem Colony Executive Committee, known as the “Garcia Faction.”
“Our relatives living on the outside are trying to cut the tribe off at the knees,” continued Geary. “We won’t let them.”
On March 30, 2016, the purported Elem Colony Tribal Council issued an “Order of Disenrollment” to as many as 61 adult tribal members, under an Ordinance, entitled “Tribal Sanctions Of Disenfranchisement, Banishment, Revenue Forfeiture, and Disenrollment and the Process for Imposing Them,” dated May 9, 2015.
Under the Ordinance, disenrollment includes the penalty of “banishment” and is “[the] penalty by which a member of Elem is permanent removed from the membership roll of Elem for all purposes. …”
The Elem Tribal Constitution requires such an Ordinance to be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary, but Bureau of Indian Affairs Superintendent Troy Burdick confirmed that the Ordinance has never been submitted for federal review and approval.
The Order includes six pages of fantastical allegations that the accused tribal members violated “the laws of Elem,” yet makes no allegation whatsoever that they are not properly enrolled as Elem Indian Colony of Pomo members. While those adults’ 71 children and extended families have not been served with disenrollment/banishment papers, if the 61 adults are disenrolled/banished, their families will be exiled too.
On Friday, 30 representatives of the affected families filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus against the purported Elem Colony Executive Committee in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California—Eureka, pursuant to the federal Indian Civil Rights Act. The lawsuit alleges restraint on the Plaintiffs’ liberty, and asks for a writ to prevent that restraint.
At this time it is unclear who will be defending the federal suit. Last week, the purported Elem Colony Executive Committee’s longtime general counsel, Tony Cohen, publicly stated that he withdrew his representation. Jack Duran, of Roseville, recently informed the Plaintiffs that he is handling cases pending before the Interior Board of Indian Appeals and that he “know[s] Les [Marston] remains involved to some extent, just exactly what issues he is involved with I am not sure.” Mr. Marston’s law firm assists tribes seeking to disenroll their members. He previously assisted in the disenrollment of Robinson Rancheria and the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians’ tribal members, amongst other tribes.
In 2015, the National Native American Bar Association (NNABA) adopted Resolution #2015-06, “Supporting Equal Protection and Due Process For Any Divestment of the American Indigenous Right of Tribal Citizenship.” NNABA denounced “any divestment or restriction of the American indigenous right of tribal citizenship, without equal protection at law or due process of law or an effective remedy for the violation of such rights,” and declared “that it is immoral and unethical for any lawyer to advocate for or contribute to” any disenrollment where such human rights protections are not afforded.