Tribal Government & News

Split-sibling election ballots due by March 22

03.14.2019 Dean Rhodes Elections, Enrollment

By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

If you are one of the approximately 1,300 Tribal members who registered to vote in the March 22 split-sibling constitutional amendment election being supervised by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, you’d better get your ballot in the mail as soon as possible.

Ballots must be received in Grand Ronde by Friday, March 22, to count.

A postmark will not suffice.

The election marks the seventh opportunity Tribal members have had to amend the Tribal Constitution. Tribal Council voted in October to move forward with a proposed amendment designed to address the single issue of siblings who are not Tribal members despite having brothers and sisters who are and have the same parent(s).

The proposed amendment to the Tribal Constitution would amend Article V to allow for the enrollment of applicants who have enrolled brothers and sisters by the same Tribal parent(s) who were enrolled before Sept. 14, 1999, and who meet pre-1999 constitutional enrollment requirements. Applicants also must meet the five-year relinquishment requirement if they enrolled in another Tribe.

Tribal Council moved the proposed amendment forward because of a positive September advisory vote. Tribal voters supported a similarly worded proposal 839-365 for a 69.7 percent majority, which is slightly more than the two-thirds needed to amend the Tribal Constitution.

Only two proposed constitutional amendment changes have ever received sufficient yes votes to pass -- the July 1999 enrollment requirements that created the split-sibling situation and the February 2008 proposal to increase the relinquishment period from one to five years.

Other constitutional amendment proposals have either failed to garner the 66.7 percent majority mandated by the Tribal Constitution or have been outright defeated.

Since the election is being supervised by the BIA, Tribal members wanting a voice on the issue had to specially register. The BIA still supervises Grand Ronde constitutional amendment elections because a proposal to remove the federal government from the process was defeated 381-230 in 2015.

During the last three constitutional amendment elections held in 2016, 2015 and 2012, an average of 1,248 Tribal members registered to vote. For the March 22 split-sibling constitutional amendment election, 1,293 Tribal members registered.

According to the Member Services Department, approximately 4,880 Grand Ronde Tribal members are 18 or older, making them eligible to register to vote -- 26 percent did so.

The original Jan. 25 deadline to register for the election was extended to Friday, Feb. 22, after a month-long partial federal government shutdown prompted the BIA and Tribe to postpone the process. The original Election Day was slated to be Feb. 25.

Two-thirds of those who vote will have to approve for the split-sibling amendment to be adopted, as well as 30 percent of those who registered – 388 -- must cast a ballot for the election to count. In the last three constitutional amendment elections, turnout has not been an issue with an average of 61.3 percent of those who registered to vote eventually casting ballots.


Debate almost nonexistent

Unlike previous constitutional amendment elections, debate over the issue has been muted.

The entire nine-member Tribal Council supports adoption of the amendment and all Tribal Council members have appeared in videos that have been posted on the Tribal government’s Facebook page. Six out of nine Tribal Council members wrote essays supporting the amendment’s adoption in the March Tilixam Wawa.

Besides a Tribal Council-signed letter of support, Smoke Signals has not received any letters either in support of or against the proposal.

Tribal Council also held educational sessions regarding the issue in Portland and Eugene, and two in Grand Ronde in February and March.

Social media, as well, has been relatively silent and absent the heated, rancorous debate that has occurred concerning other constitutional amendment proposals. Public social media posts have been overwhelmingly supportive of fixing the problem.

Natural Resources Department Manager Michael Wilson, whose split-sibling family situation has become well known throughout the Tribe, spoke at the Sunday, March 3, General Council meeting and encouraged people to support the proposal and fix the split families.

Wilson’s family was featured in an October 2011 Tilixam Wawa in the run-up to the last election that attempted to fix the split-family issue.

Wilson’s youngest son, Travis, was born 18 days before Tribal voters tightened enrollment requirements in 1999. He was enrolled and then disenrolled because of that vote while his three older siblings remain Tribal members and receive benefits, such as per capita and educational funding.

“I have talked about this in the past and this is an issue affecting our family strongly,” he said. “For us, it’s very simple. I’ve got four kids and the first one was enrolled. My wife is not Tribal, so we used half my blood to enroll him. The second one was enrolled. We used half my blood. Third one, worked the same. So, from my perspective, what’s the fair thing for the fourth one? And I think the fair thing, with the same parents, is the fourth one should be able to enroll and should be able to use half my blood. That seems pretty straight-forward to me.

“If you are still debating this, I would like to ask you to put yourself in the place of a parent and if this was your child you were talking about on whether they got fair treatment, what would you do? And I just can’t imagine a parent saying ‘No, I would not allow this for my child.’ ”

Only 46 percent of those who voted in November 2011 supported the proposed enrollment amendments, which were defeated ostensibly because it was a “bundled” all-or-nothing proposal that would have changed several enrollment requirements at once.