Tribal Government & News

Letters to the Editor -- Oct. 15, 2011

10.13.2011 Ron Karten Letters

Dear Tribal Council:

I do not like to choose between the good of my Tribe and the good of my family. Please break the enrollment bundle down into four separate questions so I can vote on each of them on their own merit.

Rosemary Jameson

Roll #883

Dear Smoke Signals:

I am a Tribal Elder. I greatly appreciate the benefits that the Tribe affords me and my family.

I have four grandchildren who are enrolled in the Tribe. My youngest grandchild, Makenzie, was a Tribal member, but her membership was taken away as a result of the 1999 enrollment amendment.

Makenzie has the same blood quantum as her brother and sister, but has now been left out solely because of the date of her birth. How can she not grow up feeling discriminated against when her brother and sister have the same mother and father, and she has the same blood quantum?

There are 30 plus other wounded families that are facing the same dilemma.

This inequality can be corrected by voting "yes" on the constitutional election on Nov. 15.

Please vote "yes" because it is the right thing to do to heal this wound for our families.

Gail Wilkinson

Roll #3509

Dear Tribal members:

Please don't be fooled into thinking that a "yes" vote for the enrollment requirement amendment election is fair and beneficial for all Tribal members. It is an attempt at a compromise to correct errors in our current enrollment requirement at the expense of creating new problems for current and future Tribal members.

This amendment bundles four separate and distinct enrollment issues; how can you interlace the definition of Grand Ronde blood, the relinquishment time between disenrollment of another Tribe and enrollment in Grand Ronde, a limit in the absolute number of Tribal members who can enroll in a given year and the removal of a parent on the roll at the time of birth into one election?

Indeed, there are glaringly obvious problems with our enrollment requirements, but these issues should never have been bundled in a bully attempt to force us to accept some detrimental impacts on Tribal membership in order to get an extremely diminished version of enrollment justice.

In order to address the real issues of enrollment injustice, we need to vote "no" on this election, lobby our leadership to separate the issues for individual voting, demand that they quit wasting our time and Tribal resources on elections meant to divert our attention from the corollary effects of current enrollment issues (and future issues, should the amendment pass), and participate in the creation of non-discriminatory and even-handed regulation of our enrollment.

Charles G. Haller II

Roll #1032

Dear Tribal members:

I am a Tribal member who is part of a "split" family. I have two daughters who are Tribal members and one son who was a Tribal member, but was disenrolled in 2008. The three children have the same parents and the same blood quantum. They are now old enough to ask why the older two are Tribal members and the youngest one is not. No matter how I explain it to them, their response to my explanation is always "but that's not fair."

I hope that each Tribal member will ask themselves how they would explain the current enrollment situation to their family members if they were one of the "split" families.

Please vote "yes" on the constitutional amendment to change our enrollment criteria.

Mike Portwood

Roll #2936

Dear Tribal membership:

I want to share my story in the hopes you'll support the upcoming constitutional amendment.

The first time I met my father was in 2007. I had no knowledge of my Native heritage until that first meeting. I immediately applied for Tribal membership, but have been denied due to the fact that my father was not a Tribal member at the time of my birth. Despite the fact that I was born during Termination, when my father couldn't be a Tribal member, I've been denied membership.

I am now 33 years old and look forward to the day that I'll be allowed to join the rest of my family as a Grand Ronde Tribal member.

Thank you for supporting the constitutional amendment.

Jessie Jones

Roll #TBD

Dear Smoke Signals:

I am urging everyone to vote "yes" on the amendment issue before us. I believe that voting "yes" is in the best interest of our Tribe and encourage you to vote in the affirmative. A vote of "yes" will affirm the rights of denied Grand Ronde who possess at least 1/16th blood to exercise their rights as Natives. Vote "yes"!

Eric Bernando

Roll #3265

Dear Tribal members:

Every once in a while we are faced with a decision that will impact others a lot more than ourselves. The upcoming constitutional election on our Tribe's membership requirements is one such point.

If you have been reading Smoke Signals or following the online dialog on any of the assorted Facebook sites, to say this is a contentious issue might be an understatement. But I personally think much of what you are reading is fueled by a vocal minority. The last constitutional election in 2008 showed that a majority of Tribal members support enrollment reform. If most of you vote "yes" on this looming amendment, as I plan to do, we can put this issue to rest.

For anybody who wants to question my motivation in supporting this amendment, let me make several points.

First, I have an ancestor on the Restoration Roll, so my own situation doesn't change or improve either way. Second, while I know a number of people who will be helped by this amendment, the vast majority of them I don't know. How could I? In fact, the one vocal group who this helps has made it abundantly clear they are not fans of mine, or of my brother. But I support it nonetheless. Because to oppose something just because it helps somebody who may not like me or who I may not like is the worst kind of politics, and should have no place in our Tribe. My motivation for promoting this amendment is simple: fairness.

I've learned over time to see both sides of an argument and could see reasons to vote "no." Oppose bundling? I get it. Slightly less per capita? Even easier to understand, though often overstated. They aren't real Grand Ronde Indians? I'll never agree with that kind of thinking, ever.

You can call me naïve, or idealistic. But I really have a hard time believing that when we were restored in 1983 that we planned on excluding people who have a right to be members based on technicalities. But we have been doing exactly that since 1999. There are plenty of people who are more than willing to share their stories. I'd recommend asking them.

The truth is we are very lucky to be Grand Ronde citizens. We are a Tribe that cares for and takes care of its people. All of us have had our lives improved because we are descended from Indians who once roamed western Oregon. This blessing is something we should be sharing with fellow descendants, not quarreling because they belong to such-and-such family, or because we might receive less per cap. Imagine yourself, just for a moment, in their shoes.

Please vote "yes."

Bryan Mercier

Roll #1357

Dear Smoke Signals:

I would like to thank Tribal Council for moving forward with the Enrollment Amendment vote. While I do not think the new amendment is perfect, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to correct the enrollment injustices brought about by the 1999 amendment.

Too many people with the proper blood quantum have been denied their rightful place in our Tribe. Too many families are "split," with some children enrolled and some denied. We are a caring people. I ask that you open your hearts to these families in distress.

My family and I encourage everyone to vote "yes" on the Enrollment Amendment now before us. It's the right thing to do.

Debi Anderson

Roll #3264

Dear Smoke Signals:

Two enrollment measures that we previously voted on will again be on the upcoming ballot. Both measures won a majority of the votes, but did not achieve a two-thirds majority.

My hope is that enough voters will want to heal split families so that we can achieve a two-thirds majority on both of these measures in this election.

My three children have split families, and it is painful for all of us. This issue has been in front of us and has occupied countless hours of the council's time, and it would be nice to put it behind us so the council and the Tribe can move on to other pressing issues.

Marilyn Portwood

Roll #2915

Dear Tribal members:

I'm writing this letter as a grandmother who has experienced the sorrow of having to deal with my grandchildren not being accepted as Tribal members because of the 1999 constitutional amendment.

It has been very painful to try to explain to these grandchildren why they have not been accepted into the Tribe and their cousins have.

I would be eternally grateful if my fellow Tribal members would vote "yes," rectifying broken families and broken hearts.

Dwanee Modrell

Roll #2590

Dear Tribal members:

I am hoping that you read this letter with an open mind and, more importantly, an open heart. As you know, the 1999 constitutional amendment had a number of unintended effects, including split families and making some Tribal members with sufficient blood quantum unable to pass on Grand Ronde blood to their children. I know firsthand the emotional distress this caused a lot of fellow Grand Ronde Tribal members. I know because I belong to one of those families. I am one of those Tribal members.

For the past decade, I have devoted a lot of my personal time trying to correct some of the unexpected side effects of the 1999 amendment. I was one of the first Tribal members to put in an application to the Enrollment Requirements Ad Hoc Committee in 2005, and was lucky enough to serve. We put a lot of time and thought into our recommendations to the Tribal Council, and although the language may not have been what every one of us wanted individually, there was a consensus amongst a very diverse and opinionated group of Tribal members.

That is why I believe our recommendation, had it been implemented, would have helped solve a large portion of the enrollment problems that continue to hurt our Tribe since 1999. Sadly, the major parts of our recommendation failed in the 2008 constitutional election. A clear majority of Tribal members agreed with them as evidenced by the vote totals, just not the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution.

We are now looking at another constitutional election. I can see that the language council has put forth for a vote is not identical to the Ad Hoc Committee's recommendation, but still solves the same problems we saw. That said, I am urging you to register and vote in the upcoming constitutional election, and to please vote "yes."

I think the language is fair, equitable and will come at little cost to many of the services we as Tribal members receive. Furthermore, it would end a lot of heartache in some of our Tribal families, and opens up a lifetime of opportunity for many of our Tribal children and youth, many of whom should be members of this Tribe.

Diana Norton

Roll #2599

Dear Tribal members:

My name is Wesley "Buddy" West. I had the honor of serving you on Tribal Council years ago. Thank you to all who supported me in my re-election bid this summer.

Though I did not get elected, that doesn't mean my goals as a potential council member get abandoned. One of those is finally putting our enrollment problems to rest. I am writing this letter in hope that you will join me in voting "yes" on the upcoming constitutional election. The problem has been going on long enough and we are finally being given the chance to solve it.

I am not writing this to gain votes, because elections aren't for another year. Nor am I writing this because my family will somehow benefit. Many of us have ancestors on the Restoration Roll, so we aren't affected one way or the other. But I do believe that passing this amendment is the right thing to do.

People have their issues with some of the language and that is understandable. Many people it seems are concerned with the roll being opened up too much and we'll be flooded with too many new Tribal members. But I do believe that is why this proposal includes a cap on the number of people who can enroll every year. So any notions about the "floodgates" opening and our Tribe being sucked dry of resources are hogwash. The language on the cap is meant to specifically stop that.

I do not expect all of our enrollment problems to be solved by this amendment. There will still be future issues we have to contend with, like diminishing blood quantum. But what we are voting on right now deals with the unintended consequences of the 1999 amendment, like split families and blood being passed on inconsistently. It also respects the council's goals in 1999 of being able to control Tribal population growth.

Yes, I can see that people are hung up on whether to split up the votes into four or five or whatever. My question is the last time they did that with a constitutional amendment, how did that work out? Not so good as I recall. Not much changed.

Really, what is there not to like about this amendment? I am voting "yes" and hope you'll do too.

Wesley West

Roll #842

Dear Smoke Signals:

Eleven months ago, I had a baby. He is such a gentle spirit who loves to smile at everyone he meets. Of course, I immediately submitted the required papers so he could join us in our Tribe. I want him to feel the pride of being a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde as he grows up and throughout life.

Sadly, my little baby was rejected because of the 1999 constitutional amendment and it truly broke my heart. I wondered how I would explain to my child when he was old enough why some of his family was enrolled and why he wasn't. I couldn't help but think of our ancestors and how disappointed they would be to think these little babies and others are being denied. The Indian way is to take care of their own, not turn them away.

So with that said, I ask you, my fellow Tribal members, to please vote in the upcoming constitutional election for the families who have been split by the 1999 amendment to be reunited in the Tribe. To make a wrong become right again by voting "yes."

Candace Modrell

Roll #2578

Dear Smoke Signals:

I sincerely hope that everyone has registered to vote in the upcoming election. Now is the time to finally correct and end the enrollment problems and unfairness related to split families and to our fellow Tribal family members who have been denied enrollment once and for all.

My only child, Lucy, is now 5 years old and deeply wishes to be enrolled along with her denied two cousins, and to join her two older cousins who are enrolled. She loves being involved in Tribal activities and is very proud of her Native heritage.

She adores the support she enjoys from her Portland Tribal "family," who have all contributed to her regalia and language and her Tribal history and involvement.

These denied three children born after 1999 do not understand why they are not included as enrolled Tribal members. They all have the same blood quantum, and an enrolled parent or grandparent. Please find it in your heart to vote "yes" in the upcoming election. I believe in the Native tradition to include family in our Tribe.

This will end the divisiveness and let us focus on coming together as a whole. It can only make us stronger as a proud and caring Tribe.

Nina Shields

Roll #2943

Dear Smoke Signals:

I'd heard so many stories of the difficulties and rejection my grandfather had been through as a result of being Native American and I knew how proud he would have been to see how our people had pulled together to create something good, something that allowed us to rely on and take care of each other, to preserve our culture and share it with our children.

However, what was once a source of pride for me personally has now become a source of pain and sadness: My family is one of those being "split" by the 1999 enrollment amendment. While their cousins have been accepted as Tribal members, my children have been disenrolled or rejected, not because they didn't have the same heritage as their cousins, but because they were born too late. I often wonder how my grandfather would feel to see his great-grandchildren being rejected and made to feel different much like he was … but this time by our own people.

I believe that the majority of you don't think this is right, and fortunately right now we have an opportunity to correct it. Please send in your voter registration form before Oct. 17 so you can vote in the upcoming election. You can bring about justice, you can make a difference in the lives of these children, simply by voting "yes."

Shawni Modrell-Astrof

Roll #2591

Dear Smoke Signals:

My name is Joel Selwyn. I am 19 years old and have been a proud member of the Grand Ronde Tribe my whole life.

I've only been voting age for two years. I think our younger generation of Tribal members needs to start speaking out when something concerns them. We are the future of this Tribe.

I am only starting to become familiar with this election we have going on right now with enrollment. This issue is deeply personal for me. Until recently, I had no idea what took place in 1999. But what I have learned lately is that it affected members of my family, the Norwests, in a way that is totally unfair.

My cousins are the same generation as me. They have parents and ancestors who are Grand Ronde. Their blood quantum should be the same as mine because we all have the same grandmother. Like me, they should be Grand Ronde Tribal members, but they are not. All of this because of the 1999 amendment.

I am not writing this letter just for my family. But had it not affected my family, I might not have educated myself and realized how unjust these situations are. There are other people also affected this way and I would like to think that many of my fellow Tribal members, if given the opportunity to fix this problem, would do it.

This isn't about money or politics for me. My life will go on the same regardless. It's about what is right and fair. Please vote "yes" in this election.

Joel Selwyn

Roll #3688

Dear Fellow Tribal members:

A great man once said: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." I started mentally writing this letter some time ago, stopped, and today resumed because of that quote.  This might be an unpopular view to take right now, it certainly feels like that at times, but I've little regrets about saying I plan on voting "yes" on the upcoming constitutional amendment. I hope that you will join me.

I honestly cannot think of an issue that has consumed more council time than enrollment. Nor can I think of one for which there will likely never be a consensus. But that is the fact of the matter regarding this particular topic, and has been since 1999 and probably even before then.

The 1999 council did what they thought was in the best interest of the Tribe at that time. Grand Ronde was experiencing a population boom that would have made providing services nearly impossible if not put in check. I do not believe the leadership then intended many of the side effects we've been dealing with since then, from the split families to the premature blood quantum cutoffs. Their intent was not to harm anybody. But make no mistake there was harm done to some Tribal families, and we've become all too familiar with their stories. Those stories resonated with the membership in 2008, who voted in a clear majority to fix these glaring problems. But a constitutional amendment needs more than that, and here we are again.

There were a number of proposals put forth by Tribal Council members, ranging from split issues to single issue at a time approaches. Almost as many proposals were made as there are council members, which shows you we were trying. While the one we are voting on didn't have unanimous consent, it did get majority support, a prospect I thought nearly impossible. Yet no single council member, I'll wager, is getting exactly what they want.

My personal belief is that if the amendments were split up most of them would fail. They did last time, and that was before the great divide amongst those groups of Tribal members who champion enrollment reform. We tweaked the language from 2008 and added another dimension, the "cap." I can speculate as to why Amendments B and C failed three years ago, but my best guess would be many Tribal voters weren't ready to enroll several hundred new members for fear of the strain that would put on our Tribal government. The enrollment "cap" provides us the opportunity to ensure that doesn't happen too quickly. In other words, we have a tool to ensure our growth doesn't happen quicker than our ability to accommodate it.

On a personal level, I have an ancestor on the Restoration Roll. My own situation is secure. Furthermore, I've friends on both sides of this issue, those who want change and those who don't. I might lose some depending on how this vote pans out, and probably already have. Regardless, I honestly and sincerely believe the proposal we have in front of us will heal some of the unintended damage brought about by the 1999 amendment, but still keep the end goal intact. It recognizes and fixes present problems without undoing the intent of a past decision, one that past leaders thought necessary.

My life has been made better by being a Grand Ronde Tribal member. This Tribe helped me through college, through tough personal times, and more. It has allowed me to be part of a community where I've forged deep personal relationships and seen unique opportunities available nowhere else. Seriously, who wouldn't want to be a Grand Ronde Tribal member? 

Years from now another young man might be typing a letter to his fellow Tribal members. This will be a letter to Smoke Signals, urging the members to see his point of view on some contentious issue. He will have been helped through college, earned the trust of his fellow members, and come to care deeply about this community, this family of families. Who knows what contributions he will have made to the Tribe, to society perhaps. This young man too will have lifelong friendships with fellow Tribal members. He may even be a Tribal Council member one day, feeling a debt owed to this Tribe, one stemming from opportunities afforded him because decades earlier his people sought not to keep him out on based on a technicality, but instead said collectively,"Yes, you belong."

Christopher G. Mercier

Roll #1821

Dear Grand Ronde Culture Committee:

Recently we were out visiting family in Oregon from Montana and were invited to the encampment celebration in Grand Ronde.

I would like to thank the committee and Tribal members who were part of making this possible. We had a great time meeting people, praying and just being around in a positive place. We ate food, ate again, and then again. You will never go hungry in the community of Grand Ronde. Our favorite was the nice salmon brought in by Rachelle Holiday.

Thanks to all who helped cook, clean and put up tipis. You are all in our hearts and prayers.

LaFawn & William Bostwick

Great Falls, Mont.