December 14th, 2011
Yesterday, the New York Times wrote about thousands of Indians in California who have been kicked out of their tribes in recent years for "the crime of not being of the proper bloodline."
Almost all tribal governments determine their citizenship based on a certain amount of tribally specific blood. The idea of using blood quantum to determine tribal citizenship and tribal/federal benefits was introduced to Indians by the federal government. I believe the United States assumed, and hoped, that diminishing amounts of Indian blood would ensure the eventual extinction of all American Indian tribes. I have blogged about this before – http://lawlib.lclark.edu/blog/native_america/?p=4914
To read legal analyses of this issue, see Carole Goldberg, MEMBERS ONLY? DESIGNING CITIZENSHIP REQUIREMENTS FOR INDIAN NATIONS, 50 University of Kansas Law Review 437 (2002); John Rockwell Snowden, Wayne Tyndall & David Smith, AMERICAN INDIAN SOVEREIGNTY AND NATURALIZATION: IT'S A RACE THING, 80 Nebraska Law Review 171 (2001).
The NY Times stated that historically American Indian tribes banished people as punishments for serious offenses, but that "only in recent years, experts say, have they begun routinely disenrolling Indians deemed inauthentic members of a group."
The article added: "Clan rivalries and political squabbles are often triggers for disenrollment, but critics say one factor above all has driven the trend: casino gambling."
The article quotes David Wilkins, a Lumbee Indian and professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota: “Sometimes it is political vendettas or family feuds that have gotten out of hand . . . . But in California, it seems more often than not that gaming revenue is the precipitating factor.”
According to the Times, up to 2,500 Indians have been disenrolled by at least two dozen California tribes in the past decade.
Tribal governments deny that greed or power is motivating these decisions and that they are only upholding the membership rules in their constitutions.
Some advocates say it is time for Congress to empower the federal courts or the Bureau of Indian Affairs to provide legal recourse to Indians who believe they have been disenrolled improperly.