Campaign aims to end disenrollment in tribes: ‘People have to belong’ | KUOW News and Information

Campaign aims to end disenrollment in tribes: ‘People have to belong’

Feb 8, 2018

The #stopdisenrollment campaign is re-launching today, aimed at getting Native American tribes to stop kicking out members.

Roughly 80 federally recognized tribes in the US have disenrolled members, usually citing reasons such as criminal activity, an error in enrollment, or not having enough native blood.

In Washington state, seven tribes have kicked people out.

Related: Disenrolled Nooksack member: 'They're playing Russian roulette with my life'

The online campaign to end disenrollment is led by the native actress Irene Bedard, who was the speaking voice of Disney’s Pocahontas.  The campaign originally started in Seattle two years ago, and has also been led by writer Sherman Alexie of the Coeur d'Alene and Spokane tribe.

The Spokane tribe changed its constitution in recent years to make it harder for people to be kicked off its tribal rolls.

“I just feel that people have to belong, and to have someone who has belonged their whole life, and then to tell them they don’t belong, that’s got to be pretty tragic,” said Carol Evans, chairwoman of the Spokane tribe.

It's a common practice for tribes to base enrollment on the fraction of native blood a person has ​— also known as blood quantum. Eric Eberhard, who teaches indigenous law courses at the University of Washington, said the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs introduced blood quantum to tribes decades ago as an eradication effort. 

"It’s the BIA imposing a policy intended to assimilate the tribes ... and bring about the end of the existence of the tribes," Eberhard said. 

Battles over disenrollment can involve family vendettas, power or money — especially if a tribe has a casino.

The most notable case of disenrollment in Washington state right now involves the Nooksack tribe near Bellingham. The tribe has been trying to kick out about 300 of its members for more than five years.

That battle has led to federal oversight and the withholding of tens of millions of federal and state dollars from the tribe.

A tribal council election two months ago would have ended that oversight and settled questions of who's a member of the tribe. But the federal government still has not certified that election amid allegations of voter fraud.