During my research of Saginaw Chippewa membership history, and specifically U.S. Senate Bill 1106 (99th Congress), a disenrollment motion surfaced March 17 which forced tribal council to address a long-ignored situation that has been debated for decades.
Following the disenrollment motion I immediately sought out tribal council and members for comment. Not surprisingly, those who voted against disenrollment ignored my inquiries. At-Large Tribal Council Representative Michele Stanley, whose voter base apparently includes many of those facing disenrollment, recently e-mailed me claiming numerous members oppose the action, however, when asked how many contacted her she failed to provide any number or estimate.
On April 8, I attended a meeting which included many facing disenrollment, in fact, almost everyone in attendance. Before the meeting began there were hushed rumors on why I was there, but even after explaining my intent was to report on the matter objectively I was confronted with some hostility and apprehension.
It became apparent to me the membership issue had reached an impasse. It is very clear to me that S.1106 is misunderstood and misinterpreted. It was also after that meeting when I decided it was time to no longer remain neutral.
Therefore, in the spirit of respect and justice for our first Tribal Chief Elijah Elk and the very document this tribe was founded on, our tribal constitution of 1937 (and honoring the revised constitution of 1986), I do not condone and strongly oppose any further attempts to redefine membership by diluting our enrollment ordinance (now almost 30 pages long).
I have gone before tribal council to discuss this matter with heartfelt emotion, only to learn later that once I’d left council chambers I was ridiculed and laughed at. What does that say about our council? I think it speaks volumes. This is now my message to them: You have allowed numerous individuals and families to sidestep our long-standing constitutional membership criteria for too long. The original families and members of this tribe are now in a struggle to regain our tribe, and today we have the power of the press and the media to reveal your actions.
We also blame the Department of the Interior for failing its fiduciary duty to protect the integrity of our membership (a treaty obligation), under the guise of “not becoming involved in membership disputes.”
You call us greedy. But is it not greed that one would relinquish membership in their own tribe to gain membership in ours for benefits, financial and otherwise? Is it not greed to seek membership only after per-capita benefits were extended to our tribal members? And why are adults seeking membership in our tribe decades after our open enrollment period? It’s time to answer these questions honestly.
– Rob J. Peters
Saginaw Chippewa tribal member
Mount Pleasant, Mich.