Individuals taking on Indian Tribes before the United Nations

A few American Indian tribes have created great controversies when they have “disenrolled” tribal citizens. In 2006, Danielle Shenandoah first took this issue to the UN.

More recent disenrollment disputes have led the United Nation’s Human Rights Council (HRC) to begin a year-long review of the United States’ human rights record, with particular attention to be paid to the nation’s treatment of its indigenous American Indian population.

Some American Indian activists are using the occasion to make a case that the country is falling short — by failing to protect Indians from their own tribal governments.

That will be the focus of a meeting in Sacramento on April 17 organized by the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization (AIRRO, pronounced “arrow”). The group will hold a second session in Temecula on April 24.

The goal is to gather testimony and evidence about actions taken by tribal government againsts Indians, both citizens of tribes and people have been told they are no longer tribal citizens. This testimony will then be turned over not only to the HRC but the federal Departments of State, Justice, and the Interior, said AIRRO president John Gomez, Jr.

Gomez is a former citizen of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians who was disenrolled — that is, told his ancestry did not make him a legitimate member of the tribe — in 2004. He said that he is a legitimate Pechanga citizen, but that he and about 200 others were kicked out that year in a power struggle over the millions of dollars coming in from the tribe’s casino in Temecula. The tribe has repeatedly sought to refute Gomez’s claims over the half dozen years since.

Disenrollment and other Indian vs. Indian issues are hardly the main focus on the HRC review. It is part of the standard Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, under which the human rights records of each of the 192 U.N. member states is examined every four years. The process will include “listening sessions” in numerous spots around the country, though only two focused specifically on the rights of indigenous people. The first of these happened last week in Albuquerque, N.M.

Indian tribes operate as sovereign governments within U.S. borders. According to federal law, each tribe determines their own citizenship. There is no requirement that these determinations be based on genealogy or genetic testing, though most tribes use these factors.

In December, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal by 16 former citizens of the Pechanga Tribe, who argued that the disenrollments violated the Indian Civil Rights Act. The 9th Circuit agreed with a lower court, saying the Act only gave them jurisdiction if there had been criminal violations, not in civil disputes.

Gomez said that he is trying to draw attention to the issue, which has grown in importance as tribal gaming has become more prominent in the state. At least 2,000 citizens were disenrolled from California tribes between 2000 and 2006.

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0 Responses to Individuals taking on Indian Tribes before the United Nations

  1. Apparently, there has been some changes to the majority opinion in the December appeal ruling.

    What tribes like Pechanga, Picayune and Redding are doing is SHAMEFUL. Pechanga’s tribal council acted outside their own constitution.

    If all the disenrolled/terminated Indians were one tribe, it would be the second largest tribe in California.

  2. anotherview says:

    Mr. Gomez and his ilk enjoyed every opportunity to submit material supporting their membership qualifications after a rightful challenge arose concerning the legitimacy of these qualifications. These individuals in question failed to present material adequate to support their status as tribal members. In turn, the enrollment committee dealing with this matter as delegated, removed Mr. Gomez and his ilk from the membership roll. This removal corrected an error in the membership roll, and conformed it to the membership criteria. Mr. Gomez and his ilk should never have been enrolled in the first place.

    The unscrupulous Mr. Gomez and his ilk routinely fail to inform others of their true ancestry as going back to Pablo Apis, who came from another tribal area, near the present-day San Luis Rey Mission. While a Luiseno Indian man, Pablo Apis could not have been a Temecula Indian by virtue of his birthplace elsewhere.

    The deceptive Mr. Gomez and his ilk try to link their due disenrollment to factors other than their inability to present adequate membership credentials. These non-members became disenrolled not because of an internal power struggle or a grab for money. They simply could not prove their membership.

    Mr. Gomez and his ilk did not have their civil rights or their human rights violated. To argue otherwise only deceives the reading public and officials. Instead, Mr. Gomez and his ilk faced a simple due process as part of a written internal tribal procedure governing disenrollment.

    Further, the higher courts have consistently ruled in favor of tribes determining their own membership in their own forum. Mr. Gomez and his ilk fail to mention they took their case against Pechanga all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court, and lost. In addition, the U. S. Congress follows its sense of staying out of tribal membership disputes. Finally, the Bureau of Indian Affairs does not involve itself in tribal membership disputes, unless it has an agreed role to do so.

    Mr. Gomez rides a hobby horse for himself and others like him who cannot adjust their consciousness to their status as ordinary Americans, individuals perhaps of tribal ancestry yet not affiliated with a federally recognized tribe. In fact, by his ancestry, Mr. Gomez hails from the San Luis Rey Indian people, but I doubt these people would accept him due to his active and continuing hostility to Indian Country.

  3. Alvin R says:

    While you are looking at this problem, check out the Termination of the mixed blood Utes, in Utah. This took place in the 50s.

  4. I would definitely agree that if all the disenrolled/terminated Indians were one tribe, it would be the second largest tribe in California.

  5. dazz says:

    Great post! Your blog is so informative. My thoughts exactly.

  6. macbook13 says:

    You people keep saying that these tribes should join together and become huge, why dont they?

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