July 31st, 2009
I am becoming more concerned about tribes and Indians using the term “members” to describe themselves.
I believe that using that term instead of the words “citizen” and “citizenship” when talking about tribal governments and tribal enrollment denigrates the existence and political significance of American Indian tribal governments.
An acquaintance convinced me on this point over 4 years ago and I have become increasing insistent about using the term “citizen.”
The words that we use, and the meanings that we convey to ourselves, to each other, and to the public in the terminology we use, are very important in delivering messages and in influencing people, public opinion, and decision makers.
As most Indians know, being an enrolled citizen of a tribal government is a political matter. Tribal citizens are not “members” of private voluntary organizations like the Elks Club or the PTA, for example.
Instead, we are citizens of tribal governments, political bodies, and sovereign nations. With that citizenship comes certain responsibilities, obligations, and benefits. We need to reflect those principles and deliver those messages in the language and the words we use.
I hope that all Indian peoples and nations, and newspapers and authors, will begin using the words “citizen” and “citizenship” when describing ourselves and when describing and talking about tribal governments and peoples instead of using the word “member.”