The Debate Over Disenrollment
Disenrollment is not a new issue. All nations have the right and power to define membership and so do Indian nations. Membership in Indian nations has become increasingly legalistic, and remains to a certain extent legally controlled by Bureau of Indians Affairs rules.
For example, the BIA prohibits Indians who are descendants of more than one nation to take membership in multiple nations. Some of the most publicized disenrollment issues, like the highly publicized Pechanga case, are the result of long standing issues within the community and BIA rules affecting enrollment.
During the 1890s, through the General Allotment Act, California Indians were encouraged to take small allotments of land and turn to farming. If they did so, they also were asked to sign documents that said they accepted U.S. citizenship and rejected tribal membership. Some Pechanga members accepted the land and withdrew from the Pechanga tribe, although many of their relatives still lived in the Pechanga nation. During the hard times of the 1930s, some allotees returned to their relatives living on the Pechanga reservation and they were taken into the community.
More recently, some elders among the Pechanga challenged the right of the allotee families to remain in the tribe, since their ancestors had signed agreements to withdraw form Pechanga tribal membership. The Pechanga general council, a body of all adult members, discussed the issues of allottee families and decided to not include those families as Pechanga tribal members since their ancestors had signed out of the tribe during the allotment period. One can argue about the wisdom of why the BIA required rejection of tribal membership as a condition to gaining a farming allotment, but that is what happened. The Pechanga general council decided the membership issue largely on legal grounds, something done often in U.S. society.
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