News / USA

US Tribes Struggle With Growing Enrollment

Rising prosperity from casinos, other businesses lures Native Americans back into the fold

The Colville tribe in Washington State is considering a plan to relax the blood requirement in its tribal constitution so that more children of mixed marriages can become members.
The Colville tribe in Washington State is considering a plan to relax the blood requirement in its tribal constitution so that more children of mixed marriages can become members.

Multimedia

Audio
Tom Banse

The rate of natural increase of the U.S. population - births minus deaths - is about one percent per year. However, the growth rates of American Indian tribes over the past decade has been two or three times as high, depending on the tribe.

Enrolling in a tribe is not like immigrating to another country or joining a social club. Tribal citizenship is based on blood lines.

The U.S. government recognizes 566 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and bands within its borders.



In some respects, they're nations within a nation. Native American tribes can make their own laws on their reservations. Tribal governments have the sole authority to determine who can be a member of the tribe.

Rising prosperity from casinos and other businesses is luring Native Americans back into the fold. However, fast growth has strained the fabric of some tribes, while others wish they had more members.

The swelling membership of the Tulalip Tribes, based near Everett, Washington, for example, is a point of pride for tribal member and state representative John McCoy, who believes improved health care and an above-average birth rate are at play.

"We're living longer. Our babies are surviving birth," says McCoy, adding that more jobs on reservations, led by tribal gaming, is another reason for the growth. "So we have our peoples coming back from other states. They're coming home because there is an economy."

At Tulalip, that adds up to a 22 percent growth rate over the past decade. Other tribes around the country have grown even faster.

And some of those have felt the need to tighten enrollment criteria to control burgeoning growth. California has even witnessed a spate of bitter purges by some tribal governments. The biggest motive appears to be financial.

For example, the Puyallup Tribe in western Washington state currently pays each enrolled man, woman and child $2000 per month in profit sharing. Tribal members voted to clamp down on new enrollments in 2005.

Like the Puyallups, the Grand Ronde Tribe in western Oregon operates a successful casino. Grand Ronde tribal members have revisited their enrollment standards three times since 1999.

The most recent election was a couple months ago. Tribal members voted to keep strict enrollment standards in place. Among other things, new members need to have a parent on the tribal membership roll at the time of birth. Before the vote, Dee Edwards posted a tearful YouTube video about how technicalities in the rules split her family and excluded her grandchildren.

Former tribal councilmember Andy Jenness taped that video and favors a looser standard that wouldn't split families.

"The amount of growth that is acceptable to me is that of natural birth and the tribe growing at the natural rate, whatever that is," Jenness says. "If that means I have less in my per capita check, so be it."

But other members wrote letters and posted online to warn against opening the "floodgates" of tribal membership. Over the years, people have complained about "tribal jumpers." These are Native Americans whose heritage includes connections to multiple tribes.

"Jumping" refers to relinquishing citizenship in one tribe to switch to a richer one. If too many people do that, it can dilute the profit-sharing checks or strain services in the tribe everyone wants to get into.

At the other end of the spectrum are tribes whose enrollments are stagnating, including for example the Colville Confederated Tribes in northeast Washington.

Tribal councilmember Ricky Gabriel has proposed a referendum to relax the blood requirement in the tribal constitution so more children of mixed marriages can enroll.

"I've had a lot of very positive [reactions]," he says. "The elders are extremely happy about this. They're pushing hard. They're seeing their grandchildren not be able to be enrolled."

Enrollment in the tribe currently requires a minimum of one-quarter Colville blood. But when you have intermarriage, that bloodline is diluted. It takes just a couple of generations of intermarriage to put the children at risk of being disqualified from membership.

Then the tribal population withers. The proposed referendum would change the rules to count any Indian blood toward the minimum.

Dozens of tribes around the country including the Tulalips and Puyallups have gotten rid of blood quantum requirements altogether. They now base membership on direct descent from tribal members on the historic rolls.

You May Like

Photogallery Strong Words Start, May End, S. African Xenophobic Attacks

President Jacob Zuma publicly condemned rise in attacks on foreign nationals but critics say leadership has been less than welcoming to foreign residents More

Video Family Waits to Hear Charges Against Reporter Jailed in Iran

Reports in Iran say Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage, but brother tells VOA indictment has not been made public More

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Action to Stabilize Libya

Amnesty International says multinational concerted humanitarian effort must be enacted to address crisis; decrepit boats continue to bring thousands of new arrivals daily More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs