Anna Pulley: Tribes disenroll their own as more claim to be Indian

Some voices from the #stopdisenrollment campaign. Photos from StopDisenrollment.Com

Writer Anna Pulley takes a deeper look at race, blood quantum and identity issues amid increased awareness of the the tribal disenrollment epidemic:
“Inhumane.” “Dishonorable.” “Genocide.” These were just a few of the dozens of Sharpied comments written on the hands of indigenous activists recently, as they launched a grassroots, social-media movement against tribal disenrollment, which is when a tribal government throws out its own members. The campaign, #StopDisenrollment, is aimed at, well, stopping disenrollment, by gathering people’s stories and asking activists to post pictures of what disenrollment means to them.

In recent years, tribal disenrollment has become increasingly routine. An Indian may be thrown out due to a clan rivalry or political in-fighting, or when a tribe trims members to consolidate casino revenues. Losing one’s tribal enrollment often means losing jobs, housing, educational benefits, and social services. It also means grappling with the identity mindfuck of being told: “You’re no longer an Indian in the eyes of the federal government.”

Meanwhile, people like Andrea Smith and Rachel Dolezal have claimed a Native identity as their own, echoing generations of white people before them. Even Senator Elizabeth Warren has claimed a Native identity because of “family stories” about her Cherokee roots. A recent Pew Research Center study showed that fully half of all U.S. adults who claimed a multiracial identity said they were white and American Indian. That’s 8.5 million people.

Why are so many white Americans claiming to be part Indian, even as Native people are telling each other they’re not Indian enough? Does having cultural pride matter when one is steeped in privilege and the power and access that come with it? The questions of what it means to be Native American in 2016, who gets to decide what “counts” as Native, and how one goes about proving it are enormously complex.

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Anna Pulley: Who gets to be Native American? (Fusion 3/11)

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