Tribes on This American Life; why are we disenrolling members?



This American Life: Tribes

A Native American tribe is doing exactly the opposite of what you’d think they’d do: they’re kicking people out of the tribe, huge numbers of them, including people whose ancestors without question were part of the tribe.

Listen to the episode here….


Above is an interesting piece on This American Life about tribes that are purging their membership rolls. It would seem that the chief motivation is to increase the share of the pie for those who remain in the tribe. At stake are casino profits and various social services and cash assistance. Of course divisions happened in the past. The danger here is that federal enrollment is what defines a tribe these days. In other words, a bureaucratic entity has taken over defining who is and who is not Native.

My clan was founded through a division; but of course this was hundreds of years ago so we simply moved down the beach, built a new clan house, called ourselves Teeyhittaan and carried on with life. It occurred long enough ago for us to establish a presence outside of the original community in which we were founded, so we have recognition from enough clans to claim the right to independence. Still, it happened recently enough that people still talk about how we are socially tied to our mother clan. With independence comes clan level sovereignty and the right to adopt whoever we want and run our own internal affairs as we see fit so long as we generally adhere to the common customs and traditions of our tribal nation.

In stark contrast to this form of tribal and clan sovereignty is that of the federal government. They do not recognize this process of peer to peer, horizontal recognition of sovereignty and tribe & clan rights. They established a fixed number of tribal nations, and that’s the end of it. No more new tribes. No recognition of clan sovereignty. As a result you have these sort of divisions and power struggles occurring to control a fixed number of Federally backed tribal government institutions. There is no recourse for excluded Natives to form their own tribal communities.

When there is only one authority in the tribe then power is centralized and it can be wielded like a club against others. The traditional way, as I have always understood it, is that there are multiple authorities in a tribe, multiple leaders and a sort of natural consensus is reached through repeated interactions and recognition of one another’s rights and responsibilities.

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About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
This entry was posted in Decolonization, Indigenous Anarchism, Sovereignty. Bookmark the permalink.

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