SEATTLE – On Thursday, February 8, 2018, the online visual advocacy movement, Stop Disenrollment, will launch once again.
Prominent Native Americans like author Sherman Alexie, former U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Winona LaDuke, rapper-actor-entrepreneur Litefoot, film director Chris Eyre, fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail, and Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills headlined the 2016- and 2017-campaigns.
The visual advocacy movement is a grassroots Native reaction to tribal politicians who have, over the last decade, exiled thousands of their own relatives from tribal communities and homelands, through a colonially inspired practice called “disenrollment.”
Motivated by graft and greed, it is estimated that by 2016, 11,000 Native Ameicans were disenrolled from almost 80 tribes—nearly 15 percent of United States-recognized tribes.
Dr. David Wilkins, the co-author of a recent book “Dismembered: Native Disenrollment and the Battle for Human Rights,” said the practice reached “epidemic” proportion in recent years.
But there are signs that with a sharp rise in awareness about disenrollment, the practice in Indian Country is in retreat.
After several consecutive years dating back to the early 2000s, during which multiple tribes were simultaneously disenrolling large swaths of tribal members according to Wilkins’ research, there has not been a new mass disenrollment effort since early 2016.
“While we are not out of the woods, it does seem that Indian Country is coming to its senses regarding disenrollment,” said Wilkins. “Disenrollment re-education efforts have taken many forms in recent years, and they seem to be working.”
As anecdotal proof, Wilkins cites the Cherokee Nation’s decision to forgo appeal of an August 2017 federal court decision requiring the reenrollment of 2,800 disenrolled Cherokee Freedmen; and Robinson Rancheria’s independent decision to reverse the disenrollment of 67 members last year.
Wilkins also cites a “helpful” federal policy change in 2016 as a reason why disenrollment is down.
Federal intervention in the 5-year Nooksack 306 disenrollment saga, spanning both the Obamaand Trump Administrations and involving the withholding of $14 million in federal monies and the closure of Nooksack Northwood Casino, bears that out. According to Wilkins, “the Feds have finally said enough is enough.”
Having featured images from the Stop Disenrollment movement in his book, Wilkins heralds the movement as “very effective. . . . It has most certainly helped change tribal, federal and public opinion.”