Tribal Government & News

Membership defeats bundled enrollment proposal 536-457

11.16.2011 Ron Karten Elections, Enrollment

The Grand Ronde Tribal membership rejected 536 to 457 a bundled proposal to overhaul enrollment requirements in the Nov. 15 constitutional election held by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Tribal members voted 54 percent against the all-or-nothing proposal while 46 percent approved it. Forty-six of the 1,039 ballots cast were rejected for myriad reasons, including extraneous writing on the ballot.

The Tribal Constitution requires that at least 30 percent of those registered to vote cast ballots and any changes be approved by a two-thirds majority before a proposal can be adopted.

The bundled enrollment requirement proposal would have reduced the relinquishment period from five years to two years, eliminated the requirement of having a parent on the roll at the time of birth or application to become a member of the Tribe, redefined Grand Ronde blood and established an annual quota set by Tribal Council on how many new Tribal members could be enrolled.

Supporters were optimistic of attaining the Tribal Constitution's benchmark of two-thirds approval since several of the proposed changes were supported by a majority of Tribal voters in early 2008.

However, critics objected to the bundled approach, wanting to vote on each proposal separately. They also did not support the new vote on the five-year relinquishment period, which was the only proposal to garner two-thirds approval in 2008, the redefinition of Grand Ronde blood and the annual quota.

The only Tribal consensus appeared to be support in eliminating the parent on the roll requirements, but since it was incorporated into an "all-or-nothing" approach, support was not enough to overcome concerns that many Tribal members had about other aspects of the bundle.

Slightly more than 38 percent of Tribal members who could have registered to vote in the Nov. 15 election did so. Of those who registered to vote in the special election, 71 percent cast ballots, which was a decrease from the 78 percent turnout in 2008 constitutional election.

"There is still a lot of work to do with regard to enrollment," said Tribal Council member Toby McClary, who opposed the bundled approach. "Individual views of this most recent election will probably vary. However, my view is that there are a lot of people who belong on our rolls who are currently being denied. How we remedy that is still uncertain.

"There are many people who are hurting as a result of this election and when people are hurting, there are no winners. I feel that the current members of Tribal Council are committed to the issues that surround enrollment. I also believe there is a way to help Tribal families through our hard work and my hope is that we begin that work now."

Tribal Council member Chris Mercier, who supported the bundle, said, "It's obviously a very divisive issue, and probably will always be a divisive issue. I think that the reality is that getting two-thirds majority support makes getting a constitutional amendment really daunting. …

 "I personally think that the economic climate has to have had an impact. There were a lot of people who expressed concern over the financial impacts of suddenly enrolling all these new people, and we are worse off financially than we were three years ago."

Mercier said he thinks enrollment issues will continue to be a topic of discussion for the Grand Ronde Tribe.

"The fact that it hasn't been resolved means it is still a live issue, and it is still something that people can campaign on and keep alive," he said.

The Nov. 15 election was the third time Grand Ronde Tribal members have voted on enrollment issues since 1983's Restoration.

In 1999, Tribal members approved a bundled proposal that tightened up requirements to limit burgeoning enrollment caused by the financial success of Spirit Mountain Casino.

In 2008, only one of three separate proposals - the five-year relinquishment period that people have to wait after they leave another Tribe before they can apply to enroll in the Grand Ronde Tribe - received the constitutionally mandated two-thirds majority to be incorporated into the Tribal Constitution.