A tribal court Tuesday upheld a decision to kick out 86 members from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.
"Being disenrolled is like being kicked in the teeth," said Mia Prickett, a former tribal member who lives in Portland. "To have it stripped away like this is just gut-wrenching. It's completely throwing away our family history, and what we sacrificed for all of our tribe."
The disenrolled tribal members are descendants of a man named Chief Tumulth, who actually signed the treaty that created the Grand Ronde Reservation back in 1855. But Tumulth never lived on the reservation. He was killed by the U.S. Army before he had a chance. And back in his day, to be a member of the tribe, you had to live on the tribal lands.
On that basis, an enrollment committee determined that Chief Tumulth's descendants don't meet criteria for tribal membership.
This came about after the tribes conducted an independent audit in 2013 and found that some existing tribal members did not meet criteria for membership. Some members were dual-enrolled in another tribe, which is not allowed by the Grand Ronde Tribes. Others were descendants of Chief Tumulth.
"They were found to be enrolled in error, and Tribal Council had to make a decision about what to do with those findings," said Toby McClary, member and secretary of the Tribal Council.
The issue has sharply divided the Grand Ronde community.
"It's been a very emotional time the last couple of years because there are certainly a percentage of the membership who do not believe in disenrollment," said McClary. "There's another percentage who believe that allowing folks into the tribe who do not meet the criteria for enrollment is acting outside of law. These decisions have been very difficult for the tribal council."
There has never been a vote among the entire tribal Confederation on this disenrollment case, according to McClary.
Former members say that disenrollment is a blow to their identity and cultural heritage. It also amounts to a significant financial loss, which can include housing benefits, elder pension, student scholarships and per capita payouts from casino revenue.
"It's going to be a tough road moving forward. As a tribe we've been fortunate to have a successful casino and we're always taken care of our members. We unfortunately are no longer members, so all of that ends for us today," said Prickett.
Prickett estimates that the financial benefits of being a member of the tribe add up to between $3500 and $5000 per year -- not including health care.
"When you take out 70 plus members that saves a lot of money for the tribe," said Prickett. "I'm not saying it's all about the money but when you kick out this many people, you start to see more resources for fewer people."
"In my own perspective, that's completely inaccurate," said McClary. "This has nothing to do with money or trying to thin the herd when it comes to benefits. This is strictly about making our rolls accurate."
"As hard as these decisions are, I've taken an oath of office as a tribal leader to uphold the constitution and the language in the constitution," said McClary. "For me, it has nothing to do with finances."
Prickett and the other descendants of Chief Tumulth plan to appeal the legal decision. Their last stop with the case will be the Tribal Court of Appeals.