That’s the awareness #StopDisenrollment generated the first week since the campaign launched on February 8.
#StopDisenrollment is a crowdsource campaign opposed to the practice of disenrollment – an indigenous nation’s government stripping a member of citizenship.
According to the campaign, more than 80 federally recognized Native Nations in 17 states have disenrolled their kin. The campaign estimates that as many as 10,000 Indigenous Peoples have been disenrolled in the U.S.
Disenrollment strips an individual of tribal citizenship, making them ineligible for the rights and benefits of tribal citizenship and, in the eyes of the United States, makes the individual a non-Indian.
Among the participants in the campaign are those who have been disenrolled or are the subject of possible disenrollment, including members of the Nooksack Tribe. Nooksack’s constitution requires one-quarter Native American ancestry and “Nooksack ancestry to any degree” to be enrolled. The Nooksack Tribal Council is seeking to disenroll 306 Nooksack people, alleging that the ancestor on whom their enrollment is based is not included in an early Nooksack census. That is disputed by family histories and other documentation.
In each photo posted at #StopDisenrollment, the participant writes on his or her palm or on a piece of paper what disenrollment means to them: “assimilation,” “cultural genocide,” “colonialism,” “injustice” and “theft” are a few of the terms participants have used.
The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria posted a statement at #StopDisenrollment that it has “firmly rejected disenrollment” and written a prohibition against disenrollment into its constitution. “We hope that other tribes will follow our example so that all Indian people can be secure in their tribal membership and continue to restore and strengthen the social and cultural ties of our people.”
Opponents say disenrollments have been economically or politically motivated. They also say it’s a painful act that is non-traditional, strips the disenrollee and his or her descendants of their identity, and is likely unconstitutional.
“Disenrollment is not an attribute of inherent tribal sovereignty. It is a creature and manifestation of two centuries of federal Indian law and policy,” said Gabe Galanda, Concow/Nomlaki, a lawyer and rights advocate living in Seattle.
“Notions of tribal kinship, belonging or citizenship are, however, consistent with tribal inherent sovereignty. This critical distinction is lost in the tribal-federal lexicon. I do not believe that disenrollment of a tribal member at the hands of tribal politicians is ever appropriate. By analogy, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution per se prohibits Congress from impinging upon one’s citizenship, which is a birthright here in America. Banishment, on the other hand, is a normative exercise of American indigenous tradition and inherent sovereignty. It can be used to remedy ills to tribal society caused by tribal members. But critically, banishment, unlike disenrollment, does not strip the member’s identity in the process.”
Matt Remle, Lakota, an educator living in Seattle, added, “I am pro-banishment, as this is a traditional method of dealing with individuals who may be bringing harm to the tribe. Where my family is from, Standing Rock, recently passed [a] resolution to banish those involved in dealing drugs on the rez. I am fine with that.
“The problem with revoking citizenship is that its negative impacts are potentially much more far-reaching than banishment. What happens to the enrollment of future descendants, to land plots, to gaining access to other tribal-specific programs like scholarships or tribal preference in hiring?”
‘A very fundamental right’
The 14th Amendment states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Some argue that the amendment sets a legal standard that should apply to all people in the U.S.: The United States cannot strip a citizen of U.S. citizenship. A state cannot strip a citizen of U.S. citizenship. A tribal government should not be able to strip its members of tribal citizenship. (Members of tribes are dual citizens because they fall under the jurisdiction of the United States and all tribal governments. See 18 U.S. Code 1151, Indian country defined and the Indian Civil Rights Act.)
“Citizenship is something that is conferred at a core level,” said Chris Stearns, Navajo, a Seattle-based lawyer who formerly chaired the Seattle Human Rights Commission and now chairs the Seattle Indian Health Board. “If you are born in the U.S., you can revoke your citizenship on your own” and become a citizen of another country, just as a tribal member can disenroll from one tribe and enroll in another.
“But the U.S. can’t strip you of your citizenship involuntarily,” he said. “It’s a very fundamental right.”
#StopDisenrollment’s supporters hope tribal governments hold citizenship – or membership, or belonging – to the same protection. Disenrollment, they say, is not indigenous, not traditional – and not acceptable.