Preamble: Tribal Sovereignty is the innate authority of tribes to govern themselves. The way that individual tribes exercise their sovereignty varies. In general, tribal authority is used in the following areas: to form tribal governments; to regulate individual property; to levy and collect taxes; to maintain law and order; to exclude non-members from tribal territory; to regulate domestic relations; to regulate commerce and trade; and to determine tribal membership.
Article 33 of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People states that:
Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions. This does not impair the right of Indigenous individuals to obtain citizenship of the states in which they live.Indigenous peoples have the right to determine the structures and to select the membership of their institutions in accordance with their own procedures.
This means that it is entirely up to the tribes to determine the criteria and procedures that an individual must meet and undergo to be considered for tribal membership. State and the federal government have their own criteria for determining who is native, but the tribe has the final word, as sovereign nations, when it comes to conducting membership.
So, how does a tribal government govern itself? In the past, Indigenous peoples governed themselves through tribal laws, cultural traditions, religious customs, and kinship systems, such as clans and societies. Today, most tribal governments are organized democratically, that is, with an elected leadership. Many tribal governments have constitutions, others operate under articles of association or other bodies of law, and some have found a way to combine their traditional systems of government within a modern governmental framework. Quite a few tribal governments are often modeled upon the federal system of three branches: Legislative, Executive and Judicial.
The chief executive of a tribe is usually called a chairman, chairwoman or chairperson. He or she presides over the tribe’s legislative body and executive branch. In modern tribal governments, the chief executive and members of the tribal council or business committee are almost always elected.
The tribe having the final word in determining membership lies part of the problem. In the modern world, corrupt tribal leadership has learned to exploit our sovereignty as means of legally justifying this new act of cultural genocide, which they do by amending tribal constitutions and disputing the accuracy of the original tribal rolls.
Section 1.2 of the Citizenship Statute of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria states:
“The Constitution contains exceptional protections for Tribal Citizens and their descendants. The Constitution protects enrolled citizens and their descendants that have been timely enrolled from later disenrollment, and limits risk of loss of citizenship only to those individuals who voluntarily relinquish their citizenship or who enroll in another tribe.”
Section 9.2 of the Citizen Statute states as follows:
“The General Council may amend the Statute by a majority vote of the General Council members present and eligible to vote at a duly called General Council meeting at which a quorum is present and where the proposed General Council action has been properly placed on the agenda in accordance with the General Council Meeting Statute.”
Once a person is enrolled as a tribal member, that membership should not be able to be revoked unless they are found to be dually enrolled or their criminal behavior poses an ongoing threat to their tribal communities. These are the only two reasons that revocation of tribal membership should be allowed at all. It is hard to say this, but disenrollment is all about money and control. There is no honor or justice in taking away an individual or family’s cultural and spiritual heritage because of political corruption and greed. We have struggled for centuries to maintain our heritage and existence against the never ending threat of cultural genocide by the government and mainstream society. It is tragic that we are becoming our own worst enemies. It makes absolutely no sense when you consider what has already been done to our peoples, and you look at the cultural, genealogical, political, and economical ramifications that terminating a family’s tribal membership will have on current and future generations.
The truth is that this is an issue that affects us all. The moment that we start amending each other out of existence is the moment that we give the government and the mainstream the permission to do the same. The moment we tell tribal members that they are no longer native enough to be members based on the colonist established belief that we could be bred out of existence is that moment that we truly become extinct.
Please join us in petitioning the tribes from continuing to dis-enroll their members. Tribal members must know that they have the power to amend their constitutions to protect their membership rights. Let us help send a message to those politically corrupt tribal leaders that we will not allow them to take away our membership rights and that we will fight to keep the future of our tribal communities strong and alive.