By Gabriel S. Galanda
“One hundred fifty years ago, this was utopia — with no (social) classes, no rich, no poor, no starving people. Everyone lived together in 1,000-foot longhouses, and they knew the difference between right and wrong.” —NCAI President Brian Cladoosby, Seattle Times
Disenrollment is destroying the remaining vestiges of the American indigenous utopia.
Tribal commercialism, specifically gaming per capita craze, runs roughshod over communal ways. Fueled by Indian political power and financial greed, wrong too frequently prevails over what is right. And tribal communities are being stratified into socio-economic classes—classes of rich, poor and starving Indians.
In other words, disenrollment causes or exacerbates income inequality within tribal communities. As Peninsula College economics professor, Dr. Dan Underwood, recently remarked on the tribal disenrollment epidemic, applying tenets of behavioral economics:
[R]ecent studies indicate “selfishness” is a luxury, that becomes culturally acceptable and individually rewarded as income and wealth increase. Thus, historical notions of identity were established when sharing was necessary to reproduce culture. Now, with new sources of revenues, historical conceptions of culture are abandoned to benefit particular class interests. What we observe happening to tribes mirrors the more general movement towards ever great degrees of concentration of wealth and power.
(Such selfishness and classism flies in the face of grassroots Indian movements ranging from the American Indian Movement and National Indian Youth Council, to Idle No More and Last Real Indians, all of which focus(ed) on externalized Indian equality and unity, rather than difference and division.)
More specifically, disenrollment—especially when tribal-wealth or per-capita driven—creates or widens classes of:
- Middle-to-upper class Indians, and lower-class Indians;
- Employed Indians, and unemployed Indians;
- Safe and sound Indians, and homeless Indians;
- Solvent Indians, and bankrupt Indians;
- Politically popular Indians, and outcast Indians;
- “Rez” Indians (including subsets of “from-the-Rez” and “Johnny-come-lately” folks), and “off-Rez” Indians.
As to the latter categories of Indians, while disenrollment legally renders them non-Indian—in countless ways—that does not mean that they are any less Indian than those with enrollment cards.
That is because being Indian isn’t about enrollment or “membership,” federal rolls or censuses, or blood quantum or “mixed-blood” racism, at least traditionally; it is about kinship. And as President Cladoosby alludes, kinship is—or was, before membership, per capita and disenrollment—our utopia.
Gabriel S. Galanda is the managing partner of Galanda Broadman, PLLC, in Seattle. Gabe co-authored, “Curing the Tribal Disenrollment Epidemic: In Search of a Remedy.” He is a descendant of the Nomlaki and Concow Tribes, belonging to the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Northern California.