A tribal appeals court has reversed a decision by the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde to disenroll 66 tribal members.
After a three-year battle in the tribal court system, the descendants of a man named Chief Tumulth will once again be recognized as official tribal members.
"This battle has been hard on us as a family, both from an emotional standpoint and cultural standpoint," said Mia Prickett, spokeswoman for the family and a petitioner in the case. "It’s who we are. Being able to finally feel like you’re going to be welcome at home means a lot."
Related: Tribal Court Upholds Ruling To Disenroll Grand Ronde Members
decision to disenroll the family
was overturned by the court, essentially because the Grand Ronde tribes have been treating the Tumulth descendants as official tribal members for the past 27 years.
The 66 family members in the case are descendants of Chief Tumulth, who actually signed the treaty that created the Grand Ronde Reservation in 1855. But ironically, Tumulth never actually 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 in 2013 that Tumulth's descendants don't meet criteria for tribal membership. The tribes found that the Tumulth members were enrolled in error.
The status of the members came to light after the tribes conducted a membership audit 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 Tumulth.
Some tribal leaders disagreed with the decision to bring the members back to the tribes.
Related: Alexander v. Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Opinion
"It is my opinion that this court opinion is a huge infringement on our Tribal sovereignty to determine our membership and remove people who were enrolled in error," wrote tribal Chairman Reyn Leno in a public Facebook post.
"To have the Court force the Tribe to place people on our rolls who do not meet the constitutional requirements of membership is wrong," Leno wrote. "It is also unfair to other people who have Grand Ronde blood but cannot enroll because they do not have a patent (sic) on the roll or because they do not meet blood quantum."
Leno emphasized he was voicing his perspective as a tribal member, not in his official role as chairman.
For many Native Americans, official tribal membership is an important part of their cultural identity. It also includes financial benefits, which can include housing benefits, elder pension, student scholarships and per capita payouts from casino revenue.
“This ruling is incredible news that we hope sets a new precedent for not only our tribe, but also for all tribes engaged in the self-destructive practice of disenrollment,” said Russell Wilkinson, another spokesman for the Tumulth descendants. “This is the first ruling in our case that was issued by Native judges — and that made the difference.”