Steve Russell: Disenrollments represent modern termination

The Nooksack Tribe of Washington is trying to remove 306 people from the rolls. Photo from Facebook

The federal government no longer terminates tribes so some of them are doing that on their own, observes judge and professor Steve Russell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, in his ongoing look at the disenrolment epidemic in Indian Country:
After over 400 years surviving termination attempts, we have begun to terminate ourselves.

The missionaries failed when we syncretized Christianity. The boarding schools failed when we turned education to our own uses. Tribal governments dodged the blood quantum bomb by changing standards or changing the method of calculation. Each colonial disease produced not a successful genocide but, instead, a corresponding antibody.

The colonial diseases for which we failed to develop antibodies were racism, lust for power and greed. Whether the rationalization was the fantasy of race, the abuse of power, or the division of limited assets, we began to terminate ourselves, cutting off thousands of Indians from tribal relations.

Many if not most tribes traditionally imposed banishment for extremely serious criminal offenses, but it was a punishment seldom invoked because it amounted to a death penalty. A tribal person cut off from the tribe becomes a walking ghost.

The modern terminations, also known as “disenrollments,” reflect a convergence of interests between the settler governments and the tribal governments. Converging with the colonial interest in disappearing Indians, at first to acquire their property and later to cut off further compensation for it, tribal governments fell into the hands of individuals greedy for power or greedy for money. Disenrolled Indians were expelled from the body politic simply for being in the way.

Get the Story:
Steve Russell: Disappearing Indians, Part IV: When is Enough Too Much? (Indian Country Today 8/11)

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