Part 3 of 5
CONCHO, Okla. – Although Indian country is divided along many lines – history, culture and language, among others – the collective energy of a number of tribes seems directed at a common target – the grandchildren.
The grandchildren seem, at least anecdotally, to be driving some current tribes to revisit their enrollment policies, as grandparents seek to ensure full tribal status for their youngest family members.
There are plenty of high-profile, contentious, enrollment-related issues, including the role of government in disenrollment disputes, but in the ongoing evolution of Indian status and survival, possible shortcomings in the regular enrollment process itself seem to be preoccupying a number of tribal nations.
Not everyone agrees it is in a tribe’s best interest to lower or eliminate blood quantum requirements even though it means more youngsters can become enrolled. Some members question stretching already thin tribal services or per capita payments while others see blood quantum as a metaphor for cultural knowledge and fear its dilution.
Still others predict tribal rolls will fill up with people who have little or no contact with the tribe itself.
Yet when the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota voted in 2008 to change from a one-fourth quantum to lineal descent, it meant a possibility that otherwise-disqualified grandchildren could be considered for enrollment. A number of Oklahoma tribes, including the Otoe-Missouria and Pawnee, have recently reduced blood quantum requirements from one-fourth to one-eighth, as have other tribes across the U.S., including the Hoopa Valley Indian Tribe in California.
And one tribe with what may be North America’s highest quantum requirement – five-eighths descent from that tribe – is going to be grappling with enrollment issues in 2010, if a forthright tribal chairman has his way.
“We’re intending to work on that (possible enrollment changes) this next year – one of my goals is to get that done,” said Curtis Cesspooch, chairman of the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, Utah, who added that several unspecified enrollment-related options will be considered by the tribe.
“Some of the kids need to belong to a tribe – otherwise, they’re left out of everything,” he said, explaining the future of the younger generation is one of the considerations for 2010. “We’ve got to make it so a majority of their blood is from a federally recognized tribe.”
Tribal survival underlies the concerns expressed by members of several tribal nations. An oft-cited calculation by DCIAmerica, a consulting firm, showed that a tribe with a one-fourth tribe-specific quantum for enrollment could, under certain circumstances, dwindle to zero eligible members in about a century.
As if to underscore the complexity of enrollment options, one Oklahoma tribe has gone back and forth on lowering the quantum.
“My grandchildren are Indian in every way, raised in our traditions, they have Indian names that have been given to them, however they do not have enough blood to be recognized by their own tribe as Indian,” said a Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma member, quoted by Rosemary Stephens in the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune.
Gladys Nowlin, who presented a resolution, later defeated, to lower the Cheyenne/Arapaho quantum from one-fourth to one-eighth, said she was concerned about education and health care benefits that might be denied her grandchildren “because they don’t have enough blood to be on our roll or any other roll – these were the reasons I authored this resolution, not for money.”
The lowered blood quantum requirement could have increased the approximately 12,000-member tribal nation by about half, according to the tribal newspaper.
“I am half Cheyenne and I’m one of those who have done well within our tribe,” Alice White- cloud, a tribal member, is quoted as saying. Her 18-year-old grand- daughter “has been brought into the circle” and “she is Indian, but her own tribe does not recognize her. We need to consider our little children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren when deciding this issue; they are the ones who will be affected.”
The proposed enrollment change, defeated last September, also lost out when it was re-introduced in mid-December by Charlene Wassana, author of the second resolution seeking to lower the blood quantum, who noted, “We are putting all this time, money and effort into language programs, but if there are not future generations of children on the roll, who are we going to teach the language to?”
Information from the Office of the Tribal Council in connection with the proposed change noted a number of advantages to lowering the quantum, including increased eligibility for children under the Indian Child Welfare and foster care systems, health services expansion, and a broader eligibility for the tribe to obtain federal grants based on enrollment numbers.
but disadvantages cited, which seem to have carried the day, included a decrease in services provided by gaming programs and a decrease in oil, gas and gaming per capita payments.
Obviously, concern for grandchildren’s enrollment is not the only quantum-related issue plaguing Indian country in terms of tribal enrollment at a time when individuals and families are being removed from tribal rolls for sometimes-controversial reasons, the Indian Civil Rights Act appears to offer little or no recourse, federal courts generally refuse to intervene, and tribal appeals systems may have limitations.
As the Center for Constitutional Rights notes online, several appeals courts “have ruled that a public policy in favor of tribal autonomy trumps the rights of individual plaintiffs to vindicate discrimination claims” even when the claims cannot be pursued elsewhere, and sovereign immunity basically shields tribal governments and the BIA from liability for the kinds of discrimination against individuals that may be prohibited elsewhere.
Part 1 – The Human Face of Enrollment Wars
Part 2 – Who is ‘Indian’ Varies by Definition