Off The Reservation: Tribes Under Fire For Dropping Members Found To Be Not “Indian Enough”

ChiefsThere is an interesting story below on the nationwide trend of Native American tribes to exclude potentially thousands from membership on the basis of their not being “Indian enough.” Critics charge that the move comes as casino profits have increased and tribes are seeking to increase per capita payouts by reducing their membership rolls. Tribes insist that they are simply trying to police their ranks and reinforce their tribal identities. This has left it as a fight over whether the rejections are driven by casinos or culture.


We have seen various questions raised by politicians who have claimed to be Native American like Senator Elizabeth Warren in her run for office. Many schools like Harvard have adopted a self-identification approach to such designations while others allow a relatively small percentage of claimed Indian blood to qualify. The tribes appear to be moving in the opposite direction, though the motive for the move is being debated by both sides.

The case of Mia Prickett in the article is an interesting one. She traces her ancestry back to a leader of the Cascade Indians along the Columbia River and a chief who signed an 1855 treaty that helped establish the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde in Oregon. However, she says that her relative was accused for participating in an uprising by the Army and not allowed to register at the time. Now the tribe wants to disenroll Prickett and 79 relatives.

I am intrigued by the jurisdictional aspects of this controversy. My question is the basis to challenge such determinations outside of tribal courts. If what Pitchard says is true, it would seem a rather arbitrary basis for disenrollment. However, the tribes have autonomous court proceedings over tribal affairs. On the other hand, Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) giving tribes the right to establish casinos and the federal government has the power to regulate the gaming. Thus there are state and federal elements. At the same time, there is no more than cultural identification raised by these letters of disenrollment. Profits from casinos have risen from $100 million in 1988 to $16.7 billion in 2006 to $5.4 billion in 1995 to a record $27.9 billion in 2012.

Should Pritchard be able to sue the tribe in federal court over such a dispute?

Source: MSN

36 thoughts on “Off The Reservation: Tribes Under Fire For Dropping Members Found To Be Not “Indian Enough””

  1. Wow. Really? What is the world coming to when even the people discriminate against their own? Are we not all children of Mother Earth? Were you born her on Mother Earth? Are you a native of Mother Earth?: I think she should fight! Sincerely Shari Wesley/Yellow Hummingbird

  2. Seriously? Native American? These people walked around the Alaskan Land Bridge from Asia. If these people are native to anything other than the obvious, Africa, it is Asia. Certainly you will produce no record of them successfully negotiating the legal immigration process. They very well may be illegal aliens. Certainly you will find no Native American Constitution and Body of Law at the Recorder’s Office. Nomads, yes. Indians, yes. Native Americans, absolutely not.

    Native Americanism is not a fact, it is a collectivist construct. Asians came here long before Orwellian newspeak. As much on this thread, because you or some historical colleague arbitrarily declared a fact, it is so, in your mind. Because you take truth, fact and words and “interpret” them per your ideology, ignoring objectivity, it is so. Because you desire it, it is so. Preposterous! The universe could come along tomorrow and revert everything back to its natural state with a rational judge called reality.

  3. It has been a rather interesting trend to watch some who wouldn’t be caught dead associating with any tribe scramble for the identity now there are gambling millions to be shared. Reminds me very much of the rush to declare some kind of ethnicity among job applicants seeking TV news positions. It was all the rage in the 1980s to get someone ethnic on the airwaves… these privileged white kids suddenly claimed great and great-great grandmothers with ethnic surnames….one in Raleigh, NC used to make me laugh. Asian, my ass.

  4. Almost everyone I know, including myself, has been told vague stories by elder family members, of having Native American ancestry. Determining whether or not there’s any truth to the claims is hard, but currently not impossible.
    Tribes are smart, and can’t be blamed for tightening up requirements for proof.

    1. halvie54 – none of my family, on either side, has ever made a claim to Native American ancestry. Stories in my family dealt more with being so poor we left Ireland before the potato famine and draft dodging from the Prussian army in the 1840s.

  5. Bonnie, I just cruised the Puyallup website, I like that you have your own school district. And, I really like that your casino has craps!!

  6. And Jonathan….it’s a pleasure to have you here a little more…. For some reason your presence seems to get the negative comments to stop while you are here and I appreciate that….as well as others….

  7. Jonathan…. It was used for many years as a criteria of whom is entitled to free tuition as a native America…… The 1/4 was the cutoff…..

  8. Bonnie,

    The quarter blood criteria strikes me as a difficult thing in some cases to determine over generations. I assume that this is done with a simple family tree analysis but that would not necessary yield a true “blood” determination. Very interesting issue.

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