There 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?