Tribal Government & News

Tribal voters approve constitutional change to limit disenrollments

11.02.2022 Dean Rhodes Tribal Constitution, Disenrollment


By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

Tribal voters decisively approved only the third change to the Tribal Constitution since 1983’s Restoration during the Nov. 2 election that will limit future disenrollments to only cases of outright fraud and dual enrollment.

Of the 679 Tribal members who voted, 516 approved the amendment for a 75.99 percent approval rate, which surpassed the Tribal Constitution’s requirement of two-thirds approval. Only 163 Tribal members voted “no.”

Of the 858 Tribal members who registered to vote in the Bureau of Indian Affairs-run election, 679, or 79.1 percent, voted.

About 20 percent of all adult Tribal members registered to vote in the Nov. 2 constitutional amendment election. During the recent September Tribal Council election, there were approximately 4,400 adult Tribal members.

 “This is a big day,” said Tribal Council Vice Chair Chris Mercier during a special Nov. 2 Tribal Council meeting, adding that the result will alleviate fear among Tribal members that they one day might be the subject of disenrollment proceedings because of incomplete or faulty enrollment records possessed by the Tribe.

Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy called it a “moment in time.”

“Today is a great day for the Tribe,” Kennedy said. “The Tribal membership’s passage of the constitutional amendment to ban disenrollment except in the cases of fraud and dual enrollment signifies many different things for our community and our Tribe. It is lifting a dark cloud that has followed us for some time. It represents our healing as a people, a desire to move forward and the security of our enrolled members.”

Tribal Council member Kathleen George said the vote repudiates the spirit of disenrollment and the Tribe living under someone else’s rules for who is considered family.

“Thank you, Grand Ronde people, for today,” George said. “Grand Ronde people came together in support and love. … This is a day of strength, beauty and thankfulness.”

The number of registered voters was the smallest for any constitutional election held by the Tribe since 1999. In all of the other seven constitutional elections, more than a 1,000 Tribal members registered, ranging from 1,091 in March 2015 to more than 1,500 in July 2016.

A “unified” Tribal Council approved sending the proposal out to voters in August. The Tribe held four hybrid in-person/Zoom educational meetings in October with two being held in Grand Ronde, one in Portland and one in Salem.

The Nov. 2 election was the eighth time since 1999 that Tribal voters were asked to amend the Constitution. Only two proposals out of those previous seven votes that included 11 suggested amendments received the required two-thirds majority to alter the Tribe’s Constitution.

The constitutional amendment amends Article V, Section 5 to limit involuntary loss of membership to fraud and dual enrollment, and removes language regarding loss of membership for failure to meet enrollment criteria.

The proposal came in reaction to the divisive disenrollment proceedings that occurred in 2015 during which Tribal members were provisionally disenrolled. Eventually, the Tribal Court of Appeals ruled that the Tribal members who were identified for disenrollment because they allegedly did not meet enrollment criteria were to remain in the Tribe because the government had waited too long to start proceedings against them.

Unlike regular Tribal Council elections, a constitutional amendment election is supervised by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which required Tribal members to register separately to vote. At least 30 percent of those who registered to vote had to cast a ballot for the results to count and 66.7 percent of those voting had to approve the amendment before it could change the Constitution. Both of those criteria were met in the Nov. 2 election.

In March 2015, Tribal members were asked to remove the Bureau of Indian Affairs from supervising Grand Ronde constitutional amendment elections, but the proposal was overwhelmingly rejected with 62.4 percent wanting to retain federal oversight.