WESTERN SHOSHONE CHALLENGE TE-MOAK TRIBAL COUNCIL’S MEMBER DISENROLLMENTS
By Lisa J. Wolf, Correspondent
February 28, 2012
Of 2,448 enrolled Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone members in 2003, an estimated 413 were disenrolled (some 17% of the Tribe), and it is expected that the current disenrollment wave underway by Nevada’s Te-Moak Tribal Council will eliminate the membership of another 300 persons for a total disenrollment of approximately 29% of the Tribe.
In a letter dated January 23, 2012 to the Te-Moak Tribal Council in Elko, Lois Whitney and Myron Tybo informed Council Members a meeting had been held January 21, 2012 to discuss enrollment issues at which the “majority of the people in attendance expressed that the enrollment committee altered their family enrollment,” which the letter maintains is “unconstitutional and a violation.” The letter called on the Tribal Council to investigate its enrollment process.
Reminding the Te-Moak Tribal Council they are responsible to “promote the welfare of ourselves and descendants,” the letter claims the Council and Enrollment Committee “used malice to disenroll members,” and demands that disenrollment be dissolved “in its entirety, including the Enrollment Committee, and that the Enrollment Ordinance, characterized as not approved or enforceable, be abolished; and that all members’ documents be protected and that members be allowed to review their family enrollment files.
The letter maintains tribal members “were denied due process” and demands the Council “immediately reinstate” all federally-recognized enrolled Te-Moak Tribal members.
Joe McDade of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Eastern Agency; Bryan Bowker, Area Director of the BIA’s Western Regional Office; Ken Salazaar, Secretary of the Interior; and Larry Echohawk, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, also received a copy of the letter.
In addition, a Support Document, aiming for 1,000 signatures, being circulated opposing “altering Shoshone blood and disenrolling members,” notes that on February 1st, 2012, Tribal members “plead[ed] with the Te-Moak Council to cease tribal disenrollment and reinstate members’ status,” and called for a resolution for a referendum vote by the people to determine Tribal membership, which was defeated by the Council with Tribal Chairman, Brian Cassadore, casting the tie-breaking vote against the referendum. The Document characterizes the Tribe’s current review process as “equivocal to entrapment and denying membership cards takes away rights, privileges and membership.” Disenrollment cuts people off from tribal rights including homes, land assignments, health care and the right to vote and hold office.
The Support Document, based on the Tribal Constitution’s Bill of Rights which allows members “to seek redress of grievances;” notes “to avoid Tribal retaliation, signatures will be held under seal for only the Secretary of the Interior to witness.”
The Te-Moak Tribe blood-degree individuals have determines enrollment as outlined in the original Constitution and By-Laws of the Te-Moak Bands of Western Shoshone Indians of Nevada approved August 24, 1938 under the auspices of the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Indian Affairs.
The 1937 Constitution’s Article II states membership “shall consist” of “[a]ll persons of at least one-quarter degree of Shoshone Indian blood whose names appear on the official census roll of the Elko Colony as of January 1, 1937” and “[a]ll persons of at least one-quarter Shoshone Indian blood residing in the territory of the Bands whose names appear on the official census roll of the Carson Indian Agency as of January 1, 1937” who “make written application to the Te-Moak Western Shoshone Council” as well as “[a]ll children of at least one-quarter degree of Indian blood born to any member.”
In addition, the 1937 Constitution allowed admittance “to membership” of “any other person whose name appears on the official census roll of the Carson Indian Agency as of January 1, 1937.”
The Constitution permitted the Council to cancel membership upon application by any adult person “to sever his tribal relations.” In addition, the Tribal Council was given authority to “promulgate ordinances subject to review by the Secretary of the Interior governing adoption and compulsory loss of membership.”
In 1982 the Constitution was amended and likewise mentions “the official census roll of the Elko Indian Colony as of January 1, 1937, hereinafter called Base Roll 1.” However, there is and never has been, an Elko Indian Colony official census roll.
The Amended Tribal membership section also includes “descendants of members of the Tribe born after the effective date of this Constitution, provided, such descendants possess at least one-quarter degree Te-Moak Indian Blood” and “[a]ny person who does not appear on either Base Roll 1 or 2, who has at least one-quarter degree Shoshone Indian blood and who can establish residency for himself or his ancestry in the Te-Moak census area as of January 1, 1937.”
In 2003 when members began to be disenrolled by the Te-Moak Council, the U.S. DOI BIA wrote to the Chairman expressing that the BIA office had been receiving calls and visits from individuals who themselves or their children were being disenrolled by the tribe “due to a blood degree decrease initiated by the Tribe.”
Acting Superintendent Robert R. McNichols told the Chairman the BIA had not “received any official documentation” regarding Tribal “correction to blood degrees of individuals” and informed the Tribal Council “you may be making blood degree changes without authority for those listed on the Indian Census of 1937, an official federal document.”
McNichols acknowledged the Tribe could make changes to an “individual’s blood determination if a mathematical error is made or if an error is apparent on the record” but “must provide our office with documentation to support the change so that we can make an official request to the Regional Office to have the record changed,” as well as requiring that “all individuals and their heirs” be notified about the correction on their blood degree and provided “with a hearing and their appeal rights prior to taking action on any disenrollment.” Absent such a hearing, the tribe would be denying individuals “due process.” Further, McNichols told the Chairman, “Any action taken by the tribe illegally will not be honored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and our records will remain the same.”
Further, in August of 2005, the BIA informed the Acting Enrollment Officer for the Te-Moak Tribe that the Tribe’s request for 18 individual blood degree changes required additional documentation. Again the BIA letter cautioned, “Because blood degree changes may have an adverse effect on numerous descendants involved; all persons who would be affected by the changes should be notified by the tribe in writing of the change being considered and given the opportunity to show evidence why the change should or should not be made.”
The BIA pointed out that as the Te-Moak Tribe “does not have an official base roll or a reconstructed base roll the Tribe does not have the authority to change any individual’s blood degrees that are listed on the Northeastern Nevada Indian Census of January 1, 1937” which is “the official record of the Bureau of Indian Affairs” and that all blood degree requests for changes must be approved by the BIA “prior to the Tribe changing their official records.”
Further correspondence from the BIA directed to the Chairman in 2008, related that “individuals are enrolled under the laws that are in effect at the time the application is filed;” meaning new membership requirements contained in the amended Constitution would “affect only those individuals who submit an application on or after the date of approval of the new membership provisions.”
In addition, the BIA informed the former Chairman the new requirements cannot be applied to individuals “who were enrolled under the old membership requirements.”
Joe McDade of the BIA in Elko, himself a Te-Moak Tribal member, said by phone February 27, 2012, “I know what you’re referring to about the BIA letting them know about their concerns with the disenrollment. I’m not really sure that that process isn’t a Tribal issue providing they’re not doing it violating people’s rights or in conflict of their Constitution. If they’re doing it in violation of people’s rights and in violation of their Constitution then there’s probably going to be an issue with that. The problem comes in interpretation: what the Tribal Council interprets as being what their Constitution says and what other entities say it is, that’s where the problem comes in.”
McDade said he supported the statements made by McNichols in his letter of 2003 but said, “The Tribe has a different interpretation sometimes than what the Bureau has.”
Regarding the Tribe contacting people and telling them they have to return their membership cards with threat of litigation without confirmation of disenrollment criteria from the BIA, McDade said. “All of their enrollment meetings are closed meetings, I think; and it’s difficult to determine what happens. We haven’t seen anything official here on any of the actions that they’ve done.”
“That enrollment issue is pretty much a local matter with the Tribal Council. The only thing when the BIA would be involved; and that’s if they were notified that there were changes to the official blood quantum that’s listed on one of those census rolls. If they’re changing those, it has to come to the federal agency to make the change; and then if it’s a mathematical error or something like that because those are federal records.”
“I know it’s a contentious issue. The Superintendent hasn’t been involved in those issues. Number 1: we haven’t been asked; and number 2: we haven’t seen any official actions that’s been taken that’s come through here.”
“Until something comes through here and I’m officially able to take a look at it, I really can’t comment one way or the other on that.” McDade acknowledged that changes to the official census have to come through the BIA “if we are made aware of it.”
The information would have to come from a Tribal group. “Officially, it would have more weight if it came from a Tribal Council; certainly an individual can ask us about that and we would have to respond one way or the other; but if I don’t have the documentation in front of me, I wouldn’t know what to ask.”
McDade said his membership in the Te-Moak Tribe “has nothing to do with my position here.” McDade said official actions “if we’re made aware of those and they come through here then we’ll have to respond one way or the other. Nobody’s asked. We hear this stuff going out there; and the Tribe’s reluctant to ask the Bureau to be involved in things like that, especially matters of enrollment; that’s pretty much a local issue.”
The Council in order to act on disenrollment is required to have resolutions of support from all the Bands, including the Battle Mountain and South Fork Bands. However, in 2006 the South Fork Band “voted in favor of a resolution in opposition of the disenrollment by the Te-Moak Tribal Council of Western Shoshone” and demanded that the Te-Moak Council “stop and desist any further actions of disenrollment of the Te-Moak Tribal members” and resolved that members disenrolled should be re-enrolled “back to their original status as members of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians of Nevada.”
Likewise, the Battle Mountain Band Council on December 14, 2007 and on May 6, 2010 issued resolutions opposing the “disenrollment procedures of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone.” The Wells Band and Elko Band are both being contacted to ask for resolutions in opposition to disenrollment.
Moving the process forward, 12 concerned Western Shoshone met February 25th at the Battle Mountain Band Council offices to discuss resolving the disenrollment issue. Some present had themselves been disenrolled.
Western Shoshone at the meeting contend that the Enrollment Committee is indeed going backwards in time and disenrolling people ex post facto or retroactively. Ex post facto laws are expressly forbidden by the United States Constitution.
Members are being disenrolled because of charges of lack of blood degree, in some instances only using one side of their parentage despite both parents being Western Shoshone; and being sent letters threatening criminal charges if they don’t return tribal membership cards. Apparently, members are being disenrolled on the basis of “errors.”
Rhonda Hicks and her daughter were disenrolled. When she confronted Enrollment Committee members, Lita Jim and Lavona Johnson, “they were really rude.” Hicks feels disenrollment happens “if you don’t know the right person or they’re mad at you.” Hicks said if you’re “not in with their crowd, they won’t do anything.” She found it odd that her daughters were disenrolled and her son was not. A prevailing impression is that certain connected families are behind disenrollment. Hicks said, “If you can’t be fair, then what’s the point? They don’t want to hear anything.”
Hicks wondered, “How many know your blood has been changed?”
Apparently, other Constitutional violations include the entire Tribal Council being present at meetings of the Enrollment Committee and voicing opinions rather than simply listening and gathering information.
In addition, Enrollment Committee members, the Tribal Enrollment Officer and Tribal Administrator bear close family ties and appear to be violating nepotism principles. Enrollment Committee members Lydia Sam and Lavona Johnson are sisters and Committee member Lita Jim is their cousin. The Tribal Administrator, Pat Stevens, is Lita Jim’s sister.
Bernice Lalo believes some 80% of the Battle Mountain Western Shoshone have been disenrolled. The Enrollment Committee says they can’t give out the names of dis-enrolled persons due to confidentiality.
Lalo said the BIA “needs to come over here and consult with the Newe people until all this gets so big that we don’t have a Newe nation anymore.” Lalo observed, “We’re like an abusive family. We’re letting it air out.”
The BIA can’t step in on their own, but must be invited.
Members share concern the tribe is being written into extinction while enrollment should be boosted. One member observed with so many disenrolled, only the big families can get in the high seats and believes they are protecting their own families and the non-members who work around them.
Myron Tybo has said, “Why Te-Moak is disenrolling people, we don't know” and “that is why we are involved because they are violating members’ rights without due process of how they are disenrolling them. They are in violation of the Te-Moak Constitution because there is no clause in the Constitution that calls for disenrollment. The only way a member dissolves his membership is if they relinquish and put it in writing according to the Constitution. And, the disenrolled members have not officially been disenrolled because they have not received anything in writing from the Department of the Interior stating they have been disenrolled, only at the Te-Moak level.”
He also stated, “No one has this so-called ‘Te-Moak blood’ that tribal members are being disenrolled by. It is not a federally recognized blood. Who is going to be disenrolled next? No one is safe from this Enrollment Committee.” When the 1982 Constitution was amended, a US Department of the Interior letter dated April 30, 1982 stated regarding the one-quarter degree Te-Moak Indian blood that “we have eliminated the language dealing with the source of that blood.”
Contacted at the Tribal Office, Enrollment Officer, Sharla Dick, rather than answering questions, referred the inquiry regarding disenrollment to Tribal Manager Pat Stevens. Stevens likewise wouldn’t answer, saying, “The only person who can give that information or make a response--the employees cannot respond to anything like that--it has to be the Chairman.” Thus far, Chairman Cassadore has not responded.
Disenrolled Western Shoshone Lois Whitney characterizes disenrollment as “a tribal genocide against their own people. Why would they take away those people who are Western Shoshone people?”
Asked about the problem of the quarter degree blood component diminishing as the generations unfold, Whitney described “what they did in my situation. Both of my grand-parents are full Western Shoshone and my mother was born here in Elko; so she’s full Shoshone. My dad was raised in the Owyhee Reservation, which is just 100 miles away in Elko County, and where the Eastern Agency was located at one time; and that reservation was created for the Shoshone people when they signed the Treaty of 1863; so what they did is they took away half of my blood. They said, ‘We can only count the blood of one parent even though they were full Shoshone’” and “they took away the blood of my daughter because her father is not Shoshone; he’s of another tribe” and “when it came to my grand-children then they were wiped out: they didn’t qualify for the one-fourth even though they had their great-grandparents who were four-fourth’s Shoshone on both sides.”
Whitney added, “We object to the fact that we were having to establish blood degrees like pedigree, like animals. We’re not animals: we’re people. We’re descendants of the aboriginal people that were here. This is our territory and we have to prove who we are.” Whitney considers it “cruel and mean to do this,” and says the Council and Enrollment Committee “are not protecting the Constitution; as a matter of fact, they are violating the Constitution” and “violating the rights of the people.”
On February 29th, Whitney and the group will present on disenrollment to the Elko Band Council. In addition, another public meeting on disenrollment will take place March 3rd at 9:30 a.m. at the Elko Public Library.
The issue will likely go to federal court if the problem can’t be resolved. Asked about funding for a court case, Whitney said if they have to they will find funding as they “look at saving our Tribe” and speak “out for the Elders and those who passed away who were disenrolled.”
8 California disenrolled Pala Band of Luiseno Indians were recommended by the BIA for re-entrance on the Tribe’s membership roll. As reported January 4, 2011 in the Original Pechanga’s Blog, “The Picayune Rancheria, near Fresno, eliminated almost 50% of their tribe. Pechanga at about 25%. The Redding Rancheria even terminated the family of their FIRST Tribal Chairman, Robert Foreman.” Again, the disenrollments are characterized as genocide. As Original Pechanga says, “It has been discussed that tribal disenrollments in Indian Country is nothing short of genocide of families. It's nothing compared to the horrors in Rwanda or Armenia of last century, however, tribes are eliminating large percentages of their people.” Original Pechanga says, “Disenrollment is tribal genocide.”
Money is involved in Pechanga disenrollment. “In the case of Chukchansi Gold, the casino had been averaging $5 million per month in payments to the Tribe over the past 48 months (as reported to me by a former Tribal Council member). The tribe disenrolled 625 members whose share would be $3,200 per month. This equates to $104,000,000 stolen. They are now disenrolling an additional 300 members.”
The North County Times posted an editorial by Rick Cuevas that says, “Tribal governments are using sovereignty as a weapon to beat the weak and helpless. Our federal and state governments are happy to stay out of the issue by saying that membership is a tribal matter. Fair enough, but what about the government's trust responsibility to Indians, to see that tribal constitutions are followed?”
Cuevas observes, “Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced impartially. It also requires full protection of human rights. Impartial enforcement of laws requires an independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible police force. That simply is not what is happening on tribal reservations.”
Cuevas says, “Tribes are using fear tactics, and yes, terrorism, to keep members in line for fear of losing their land, homes, per capita shares and health benefits. More critical, they also lose their rights to choose a representative government and to vote on issues that pertain to them. Imagine if the Republicans were able to eliminate 25 percent of the Democratic vote.”
Disenrolled Te-Moke Tribe members have reason to fear. Says Cuevas, “Currently at Pechanga, the tribal council is threatening allottees with fines, banishment and restricted access to their property. One family is taking it upon themselves to try to force a family ---- who was given an allotment with the creation of the reservation ---- off their land.”
The Chukchan Tribal Council is now in a war over the recent election which was reported on by ABC, Channel KSEE24, February 28th. The recent Council voting included disenrolled members and a new anti-disenrollment council was elected, ousting the pro-disenrollment council. The installation of the new council is being opposed by the previous Council and the BIA has been saying, as did McDade at Elko’s BLM, that it is an internal tribal matter. The dispute between Chukchan tribal members has turned violent with a teenager stabbed, and a woman and security guard injured, Tuesday, February 28th, in the dispute among the Councils. The BIA is being asked to step in and assist.
The drama in Chukchan may serve as a cautionary tale to the Te-Moke Tribal Council as their members seek to stop disenrollment.