Stop disenrollment: Indian Country simply cannot afford any additional trauma
Deron Marquez, PhD
In western governments, sovereignty is derived from the people; part of an individual’s sovereignty is surrendered to the “order” via a social contract theory. In most instances, the contract is entered at birth or through some other legal means of citizenship admittance. A citizen is rarely divested of those rights and any divestment of citizenship requires heightened proof and due process.
In Indian Country, an individual typically has to petition for citizenship (usually at birth and sometimes later in life) and it’s not an automatic process. Once “enrolled” into the tribe, a set of rights and duties falls upon the individual as defined by their tribal nation. Too many Indians have upheld these obligations over the course of many years, only to be told they no longer belong to their tribal community.
These dismembered souls helped form the foundation upon which their tribal nations maintained and flourished tribal sovereignty, only to be told that the very same sovereignty they helped to provide was the blade that severed their spirits.
Since the turn of the century, tribal governments have quickened the dismemberment pace and it has become far too easy for tribal governments to “tribally divest” tribal citizens. These actions are a hold-over from a foreign government’s attempt at a “final solution” once used to rid the land of Indians, but it is now tribal governments who seek to rid their lands and financial obligations to Indians.
Tribal governments refuse to engage in local or national dismemberment conversations, citing the federal court decision Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez and calling the act of deciding who is enrolled to be a “sovereign” prerogative. But this is not a query of enrollment; that axiom is long accepted.
What should not be accepted is ancestral termination disguised under the Santa Clara Rubicon and silence of tribal governments and inter-tribal organizations. Continued failure to engage in any formal dialogue or to devise a tribal dismemberment solution may grant a podium for a federal solution to the violations of Indian’s civil and human rights.
Right now, it is mostly “grassroots” Indian leaders who are taking a stand, such as through today’s #StopDisenrollment social media movement, but what Indian Country urgently needs is elected tribal leaders to do or say something to help stop the self-termination and dismemberment before another Indian life is lost.
The dismemberment endemic has graduated to epidemic status, a fact clearly exemplified by Dr. Wilkins work. With less federally recognized Indians, dismembered Indians no longer qualify for federal and tribal programs. An area of grave concern is in the field of psychological trauma. American Indians already outpace the general public in suicide and depression as well as addictive traits such as alcoholism and drugs. Dismemberment Trauma is unique in one very simple accurate occurrence: it is Indians traumatizing Indians. Indian Country simply cannot afford any additional trauma. We have endured quite enough. A cure is immediately needed, from within Indian Country.
Sen. John McCoy stated a year ago: “I oppose disenrollment because it undermines an Indian’s – and in fact all of our – heritage and lineage.” Indian Country has created a new category of Indian who has had their identity undermined, their ancestry nulled, and their lives voided. In the final analysis, it will be Indian Country that will suffer from the dismemberment.
Deron Marquez, PhD, is the Co-Founder of the Tribal Administration Certificate Program at Claremont Graduate University and former chairman of San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.