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Tigua enrollment is stalled in Senate

WASHINGTON - As the Congressional session ended, Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, halted passage of a bill which would have allowed the Tigua Indians of El Paso, Texas, from updating requirements for enrollment within the tribe.

The bill earlier passed unanimously in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and was referred to the full Senate. However, just moments before the Senate was set to vote on the measure, Gramm asked that the bill be pulled from consideration.

The Tigua or Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is the oldest community in Texas, yet one of the newest pueblos. Located within the El Paso area, Ysleta was established in 1681 by refugees from the pueblo uprising against the Spanish in New Mexico. Spanish missionaries and loyal Tigua Indians settled at El Paso de Norte and built Ysleta Mission.

The mission remains the focal point for the Tigua community. The tribe was not federally recognized until August 1987 through an act of Congress.

The bill, H.R. 1460, would have amended the 1987 Ysleta del Sur Restoration Act to allow inclusion on the tribal rolls of children of currently enrolled members. To be on the tribal rolls, a Tigua must have at least 1/8 blood quantum. The proposed bill would change that requirement to 1/16. The request for a change in the blood requirement usually is a routine and internal issue for most tribes, without Congressional approval.

However, under the 1987 Restoration Act, the Tiguas require Congressional approval for any such change.

No official reason for pulling the bill has been given by Sen. Gramm.

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Tigua tribal leaders say they believe the Texas agriculture commissioner, who has voiced opposition to one of Tigua's trust applications, complained to Sen. Gramm's office regarding the blood quantum bill. Tigua council representatives say they attempted, on numerous occasions, to speak with both Sen. Gramm and the Agriculture commissioner but their calls have not been returned.

"We are very saddened and outraged that this critical measure for the people of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo would fall victim to the ugliness of apparent racism," said Albert Alvidrez, governor of the Pueblo. "Native Americans have historically been the brunt of outrageous mistreatment in the past and as our country has become more culturally diverse, this kind of treatment should have no place in public policy."

The Tigua tribe has more than 1,200 members. If the proposed bill were passed, an additional 500 persons from the descendants' database would be eligible for membership. Alvidrez says that without passage of the bill, the pueblo would be reduced to a mere handful of members within three generations.

Tribal records, from March 1999 to March 2000, show 30 newborns were placed on tribal rolls. Of those, only two infants had a blood quantum of 1/4. If the other 28 infants were to eventually have children, with non-members, the blood quantum of the offspring would fail to qualify for membership. Alivdrez says that is a problem the tribe should be allowed to address with no restrictions from the federal government.

"Texas has a long record in promoting segregation, racism, and failing to recognize the contributions Native Americans have made in this country and our rights as Indigenous people," Alvidrez said. "The genocide and governmental eradication of Native Americans in this state is a hallmark of Texas politics."

H.R. 1460 was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Sylvester Reyes, D-Texas, and passed the House without opposition in September. The bill is expected to re-emerge in the 107th Congress.

"What I have is a profound sense of how important it is for members of this tribe to belong to a family, a culture, and a people with a distinct place and tradition in America," said Rep. Reyes.