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. It has always been the right of every tribe to decide who is a member and who is not. I am a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. I am not familiar with the case you mention; but, it would be interesting if a federal case was filed. My tribe recently (10 to 20 years ago) started enforcing a blood quantum of one quarter Indian blood. It was put in as an amendment to our Tribal Constitution, which was put to a vote by all members. I voted against the amendment; but, I was in the minority. However, it is a tribal law now; and, we abide by it. However, I do believe that our tribe did not disenroll any members even after the amendment was passed. Tribal politics can get just as nasty as non-American Indian politics. After all, our governments were given to us by the white man who set the example.

    1. Bonnie – I live in a state where tribal politics can be very very interesting. However, even more interesting is the inter-tribal politics. We have tribes who have been historical enemies for hundreds of years. They still are.

  2. buckaroo, I agree totally. Indian people are some of the best folks I know.

  3. It’s the same old story–As soon as someone comes into money, the relatives come out of the woodwork. Mia Prickett did her genealogy homework, but if she’s not a certain percentage of pure Indian blood, she’s out of luck.

  4. I have spent some time as a contractor in the Indian Service. I must say I have never meet better people ever. We have taken just about everything of value from them & returned very little in return. They do not have enough pure bloods to make them a political force – now they have accumulated a degree of wealth & the mixed bloods wish to be included. Why ? Don’t we question the blood lines of Supreme Court members & question their motives regarding our laws when they vote. Just look at the polls regarding block voting or gerrymandering. Even oaths of ethics that have been around since the beginning of recorded science have been modified to suit the majority. We now do a lot that way

  5. PaulRevereWear
    This is America. Those who hold onto the tribal model and wear the headdress are similar to those who dress like Pilgrams, Confederates, or Boston Redsocks. Get over it. Join the culture. Thank Dog we have an internet to penetrate that backward Indian Reservation so that the next generation might see differently.
    *****************************************************************************************
    Would you say the same thing to people who embrace their Jewish, Italian, African American, etc. heritage? If you read the article carefully, you would know that the vast majority of Native Americans do live off the reservation and are more or less assimilated.

  6. Yes he should….. Before the casinos profits….. They were desperate for members….. Used to be up to 1/4 would qualify you…..for membership….

    1. rafflaw – not exactly. Some of the rules are set by treaty, etc. If that were the case you would be out of a job. šŸ™‚

  7. If you travel to Ireland you can spot the Irish American tourists ten miles away. They wear the green pants, the Shamrock around the neck, green tie and funny hat. All along they are singing Irish Eyes Are Smiling. The homegrown Irish roll their eyes and don’t wonder why they got rid of the low IQ lowland Irish who ran out of potatoes in 1848. But back in the States, these Mick tourists live in suburbs, drive cars, work in all trades and professions and ditch the Mick outfits. The parallels are interesting. Those that got off the Reservation during the potato famine are doing a lot better than those who stayed home in Ireland. Those who stayed home look down on those who fled. In the Casino World Indian Reservation, those who stayed home resent those who left and do not want to share in the proceeds. On a cross cultural note, the American Micks flock to the Casino Royale on the Reservation to lose what money they made during the week. Luck of the Irish. Where was my Great Great Grandfather when he should have been warning us that The Irish Are Coming.

  8. Interesting that the bigger the pie gets the more vigorously everyone wants to latch onto the biggest piece of it. You would think tribes would be dropping members due to shrinking revenues, but they are doing so due to rising revenues. Greed is a funny thing.

  9. Hell, A lotta folks though Obama was not black enough to be President.

  10. Thank pasta the European American society always gets court ruling correct and is never driven to mistakes by ignorance and greed so we can look down our nose and tsk-tsk.

    This is not a new problem in Minnesota where ricing used to be a major source of income for the tribes and you needed to be a certain percentage native to rice. But ricing was hard work & few non-Indians applied. Now everyone and their brother wants some of that sweet casino cash and suddenly discovered they have Indian blood. Mistakes will be made.

    When those nice white men took all the land & gave tiny bits back they agreed to allow the natives tho have their own government, it is written in the treaties. After all the treaties we have set fire to when it suited us I suppose insisting that our courts make their mistakes for them rather than them making their own is just the sort of dominant culture bias that endears white America to non-white America and one more “as long as the grass grows” agreement made a lie.

  11. This is America. Those who hold onto the tribal model and wear the headdress are similar to those who dress like Pilgrams, Confederates, or Boston Redsocks. Get over it. Join the culture. Thank Dog we have an internet to penetrate that backward Indian Reservation so that the next generation might see differently.

  12. From JT’s link:

    And in Michigan, where Saginaw Chippewa membership grew once the tribe started giving out yearly per-capita casino payments that peaked at $100,000, a recent decline in gambling profits led to disenrollment battles targeting hundreds.

    But for Prickett’s relatives, who were tribal members before the casino was built, the reasons were unclear.

    Prickett and most of her relatives do not live on the reservation. In fact, only about 10 percent of Grand Ronde members do. Rather, they live on ancestral lands.

    “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”

    Money is power.

  13. I have never been comfortable with the two sovereignty set up. Yes, the Indians were subjected to terrible injustices but I think allowing a narrow clique of tribal leaders to siphon up money and power does nothing to help the average Native American. In fact, from what I have seen it dooms them to tribal segregation and now comes the move to test genetic purity so that tribal leaders can amass more money. It is time to put a stop to this charade.

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