Wealthy Native American tribes are changing enrollment guidelines to exclude those who aren’t from certain bloodlines, a practice that began in the 1990s when Indian casinos found a foothold.
Mia Prickett and her Oregon family are being booted from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde along with hundreds of other tribe members based on blood quantum laws – how Indian their ancestry is. Members must be able to trace their lineage to a person on the tribe’s census rolls or treaty records, which are old and notoriously flawed, The Associated Press reported.
Prickett’s ancestor was chief Tumulth, who led the Cascade Indians along the Columbia River and signed the 1855 treaty to establish the Confederate Tribes of the Grand Ronde.
Her family was swept up in the “disenrollment epidemic” anyway.
Chief Tumulth was wrongfully accused of leading a revolt and was executed by the U.S. Army, so his name does not appear on the tribe’s roll.
Prickett said the idea of losing her tribal membership is “gut-wrenching.”
"In my entire life, I have always known I was an Indian. I have always known my family's history, and I am so proud of that," Prickett said.
"It's like coming home one day and having the keys taken from you," she said. "You're culturally homeless."
In 2011, a number of California Native Americans faced the same disenrollment tactics, according to the New York Times.
Nancy Dondero, 58, and about 50 of her relatives received a letter in November 2011 from the leaders of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians that said: “It is the decision by a majority of the Tribal Council that you are hereby disenrolled.”
In 2010, Indian-owned casinos in California brought in nearly $7 billion – more than any other state. Dondero and others stood to lose housing, healthcare, access to tribal schools, scholarships and great deal of income. Members made about $15,000 per month in gambling profits.
Chukchansi leaders said those disenrolled weren’t authentic members of the tribe.
“You have people who want to be tribal members, where no one knows who they are or where they came from,” said Reggie Lewis, chairman of the Chukchansi Tribal Council. “We are sworn to uphold the Constitution. And basically that’s what we try to do.”
“Sometimes it is political vendettas or family feuds that have gotten out of hand,” David Wilkins, a Lumbee Indian and political science professor at the University of Minnesota, told The Times in 2011. “But in California, it seems more often than not that gaming revenue is the precipitating factor.
Today Wilkins says disenrollment “ultimately comes down to the question of how we define what it means to be Native today.”
"As tribes who suffered genocidal policies, boarding school laws and now out-marriage try to recover their identity in the 20th century, some are more fractured, and they appear to lack the kind of common elements that lead to true cohesion,” he told The Associated Press.
Prickett says up to 1,000 members could be cast out.
"I have made a commitment to both our language and our tribe," said Eric Bernardo, one of seven Chinuk Wawa teachers who faces disenrollment. "And no matter what some people in the tribe decide, I will continue to honor that commitment."