Supreme Court turns down another tribal disenrollment dispute

Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills, a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, explains why he supports the #StopDisenrollment campaign. Photo: StopDisenrollment.Com

The #StopDisenrollment movement continues to gain steam across the nation but there's still one place where it hasn't caught on.

Without comment, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned down a petition in Alto v. Jewell, a tribal disenrollment case from California. The action marks the second time this year that the justices have refused to get involved in the controversy.

The hands-off approach from the nation's highest court stands in contrast to the growing concern about tens of thousands of people who have lost their tribal citizenship across Indian Country. More and more prominent voices, including Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills (Oglala Sioux), Washington State Sen. John McCoy (Tulalip) and Arkansas Law School Dean Stacy Leeds (Cherokee), have joined the #StopDisenrollment campaign to draw attention to what has been called an epidemic.

The efforts are slowly paying off after years of inaction. In one notable example, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, during the final months of the Obama administration, questioned the ouster of more than 300 people from the Nooksack Tribe.

The BIA and other federal agencies have since withheld an estimated $14 million for health, housing and other programs on the reservation in Washington. The tribe is now suing the new Trump administration in hopes of securing the funds, ensuring that the dispute, which has drawn consistent media coverage, will continue to gain attention.

Not everyone has been so fortunate, though. Dozens of people who were ousted by the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians and the Pala Band of Mission Indians turned to the BIA for help but were ultimately unable to prevent their removals from the two tribes, both based in southern California.

In the Alto case, the one denied by the Supreme Court on Monday, the BIA actually took part in the removal of former citizens of the San Pasqual Band under a provision in the tribe's constitution. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an unpublished decision last September, said the BIA acted lawfully when it determined that Marcus Alto Sr. had been incorrectly enrolled.

In the Aguayo case, the one denied by the Supreme Court in January, the BIA refused to get involved because the Pala Band changed its laws to keep the agency out of citizenship matters. The 9th Circuit sided with the agency, ensuring that the descendants of Margarita Britten will remain off the rolls.

Turtle Talk has posted briefs from both cases, Alto v. Jewell and Aguayo v. Jewell.

9th Circuit Court of Appeals Decisions:
Alto v. Jewell [San Pasqual Band Disenrollment] (September 20, 2016)
Aguayo v. Jewell [Pala Band Disenrollment] (July 8, 2016)

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