A Rebuttal to Duane Champagne's Recent Piece on Disenrollment

Rick Cuevas

In a recent piece for Indian Country Today Media Network, titled "The Debate Over Disenrollment" by UCLA Indian Studies professor Duane Champagne, we who have been disenrolled from Pechanga were aghast at the inaccuracies.

I will address the Pechanga issues here.

Duane Champagne: 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.

No Temecula Indians were required to reject tribal membership for an allotment on the reservation. There is no evidence of any rejection of tribal membership by the Hunter Family. The first family to be disenrolled, from the Apish family, still have members in the tribe. The disenrollment stemmed from a political issue where new enrollment committee members upon taking office from both Apish and Hunter families found that the committee had not been processing enrollment applications from certain families and those people were denied tribal membership and they ended up in a moratorium on new adult members even when their applications had been submitted before the deadline. Once questions arose, plans for disenrollment began.

DC: 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 allottees returned to their relatives living on the Pechanga reservation and they were taken into the community.

The Pechanga reservation was created for the displaced Indians of Temecula. Prior to the establishment of the reservation in 1882, there was no Pechanga nation. Without the reservation land, there would BE no Pechanga Tribe, the tribe was and is still known as the Temecula Band of Luiseno Mission Indians. This is the official title of the tribe, sometimes referred to as the Pechanga band of Mission Indians, as the reservation was intended for ALL Temecula Indians. Our ancestor, Paulina Hunter, was allotted 20 acres as head of household. Her descendents all have rights to the land, and many still live on the reservation.

DC: 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.

This is completely untrue. The case against the allotted family said nothing about anyone signing agreements to withdraw from tribal membership in fact this false contention is nowhere to be found in the Record of Decision in the case . Also, No due process was allowed as the witnesses against the allotted family were directly related to committee members sitting in judgment of the family, nepotism at its dirtiest. For example, one of the "key" witnesses was the brother of two enrollment committee members. Not only that, we could not confront witnesses, our paperwork had to be certified, while hearsay uncertified evidence was accepted from those opposing our families. We were denied attorney representation, and were not even allowed writing implements. Additionally, the appeal came before the son and nephew of two enrollment committee members, sitting on the tribal council.

DC: 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.

This is completely untrue. There are still allotees in the tribe, as being a lineal descendent of an original Pechanga allotee was a requirement for membership. No ancestor had "signed out" of the tribe. In fact the chairman refused to allow any discussion of enrollment at tribal meetings. We all had enrollment numbers, many with lower numbers. Former Chairman Jennie Miranda didn't have one, nor is current Chairman Mark Macarro on the base roll of 1979. Some members of the current Pechanga nation must trying to explain their presence, while the justifying the termination of allotees.

DC: 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.

Again, this is NOT true, no allotee rejected membership into a Pechanga Nation. Why did the professor not offer proof of this? As allotees, this come as complete shock to us. He's encouraging the news media to research, when it's apparent he hasn't done his homework. 

DC: The Pechanga general council decided the membership issue largely on legal grounds, something done often in U.S. society.

The General Council, in fact voted overwhelmingly to halt ALL disenrollments. It was the Mark Macarro led tribal council that ignored the will of the people, and did NOT follow the tribal constitution. Not only did they NOT vote to kick out allotees, they voted to KEEP allotees in 2005. So the disenrollment in 2006 of the allotted family, the Hunters, was in violation of a duly passed legally binding tribal law The General Council, according to tribal law and custom and tradition, are the final authority in all matters of tribal government and business of the Band including enrollment. The established legal precedent on enrollment matters had been set when the heirs of Rose Murphy, who had been turned down for enrollment by the enrollment committee, were granted tribal membership when the enrollment committee was overruled by the General Council in 1986. So her heir, sitting tribal councilman Russell Butch Murphy, is living breathing proof that the people, not the enrollment committee, are the final authority in enrollment matters.

In a letter to the tribal membership, just two days before the Hunters received their Record of Decision informing them they were kicked out of the tribe, the tribal council stated that the General Council had no authority over enrollment matters to stop disenrollment. So which is it, the people have the authority to let a family in who had been turned down by the enrollment committee but they don’t have the authority to keep a family in the tribe that was confirmed by the General Council?

DC: If tribal courts and tribal appeals court remedies fail, then disenrolled persons do not have recourse. Like in any nation, leadership, or a majority, can make bad decisions or poor judgement calls. Nevertheless, the whole of Indian tribal membership issues should not be brought into question because of the perceived actions of some nations, whose actions are often not well researched or understood by the press, and often while meaning well, are not accurately or fully reported.

Stripping Native Americans of their tribal citizenship is much more than a "poor judgement call". This is PRECISELY when membership issues should be brought into question Are to we to believe that the professor thinks that the practice of apartheid in South Africa was simply "poor judgement" and not worthy of countries divesting themselves of business in order to sway South Africa from that practice? Should we have left them alone and carried on that horrible practice as business as usual? 

DC: Who belongs to a nation and the rules of membership are often contested and debated within many nations. Many people challenge whether President Barack Obama is a U.S. citizen. They say that neither of his parents were proper U.S. citizens, and they doubt that he was born a natural citizen in Hawaii . Whether right or wrong, the discussion raises a lot of commotion. Indian enrollment issues are not terribly different.

Goodness gracious, the two issues are completely different. Had Republicans had been able to get rid of 25 percent of Democrat votes, then held a trial with John McCain and Sarah Palin's family sitting in judgement of President Obama, the analogy would be more correct.

For a professor at a state funded public university to express these inaccuracies as truth in his article is appalling. Indians weren't granted citizenship until 1924. Temecula Indians were NOT given US citizenship in exchange for accepting allotments on the reservation. Nor did we withdraw from the Pechanga Nation. The General Membership DID NOT vote to remove us from the tribe, in fact the opposite is true, by voting to halt all disenrollments. Such views can attributed to a faction of fraudently enrolled tribal members, many of whom have no Indian ancestry.

Rick Cuevas is a descendant of Paulina Hunter, an original allotee (#62) to the Pechanga Indian Reservation. He writes Original Pechanga's Blog on tribal disenrollment.

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Spottedwolf's picture
It is quite disturbing that a college professor of Indian Studies at an UC campus could so naively expound upon a sensitive subject without having his facts thoroughly researched. His opinions seem as though they were coerced by those tribes that practice disenrollment. Didn't the Pechanga tribe hire an expert anthropologist who contradicted their claims only to ignore his research? Most California tribes have base rolls stipulating original families of said tribe, by the time the invaders got to California they had their agenda more clearly refined.
andre's picture
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. Rick Cuevas does a good job making and articulating his points. What's sad and always amazing is the mean-spirited way the American government treated Indian people and continues to be the middleman in the resolution of disputes they created today. Andre Leonard,
Joe2310's picture
Great Article ,Rick Cuevas !
Sterling Harris's picture
Sterling Harris