Tribal Government & News
Kennedy discusses disenrollment vote on OPB
By Dean Rhodes
Smoke Signals editor
Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy appeared on the Oregon Public Broadcasting talk show “Think Out Loud” on Thursday, Jan. 5, to discuss the Grand Ronde Tribe’s recent constitutional election that limits disenrollment to only cases of fraud and dual enrollment.
“The CTGR is one of the few Tribes to make a revision like this to protect its members,” OPB said in promoting Kennedy’s appearance on the show hosted by Dave Miller.
During the Nov. 2, 2022, constitutional amendment election, 679 Tribal members voted and 516 approved the proposed amendment to limit future disenrollments for a 75.99 percent approval. To amend the Tribal Constitution, two-thirds of those voting must approve of the proposal. It was only the third time since 1983’s Restoration that a constitutional amendment was approved.
The amendment was in reaction to the divisive disenrollment proceedings that occurred in 2013-14 during which Tribal members were provisionally disenrolled pending Tribal Court appeals.
Kennedy called those proceedings a “traumatizing time” in the history of the Tribe. “It was a horrible, horrible ordeal,” she said. “I can’t emphasize that enough.”
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 waited too long to start proceedings against them.
Kennedy said the November constitutional election result finally let all Tribal members rest assured that they will not be targeted for future disenrollment proceedings.
“This is the result that the Tribal Council was working toward,” Kennedy said. “That is to allow the Tribe to begin to heal. For the people and the families that were affected, it’s a huge relief not to worry about ‘Gosh, I wonder if there’s going to be some document that might surface that might show we don’t have enough blood quantum to remain a member.’ … It was to allow healing and for our members to have a sigh of relief and enjoy being a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.”
In 2019, Tribal Council declassified the 2012 enrollment audit that became the foundation of disenrollment proceedings, saying the audit could not be relied on to confirm whether an individual Tribal member’s blood quantum in the Tribal records was actually correct.
Kennedy said that the faulty enrollment documents received by the Tribe from the Bureau of Indian Affairs following 1983’s Restoration greatly contributed to the problematic Tribal records currently being used to determine blood quantum and lineal descent.
“When we were terminated, the BIA took all of our records,” Kennedy said. “They were in charge of enrollment. When we were restored in ’83, the bureau still had those records and the Tribe had to request them. What we found was that there were a lot of errors in those records. It was not a real scientific approach. It was just based on whoever was in the office. … There are still errors being discovered from when the bureau handled all of our enrollment.”
Since November’s vote, the Grand Ronde Tribe has received national news coverage as being one of the few Tribes in the United States to protect its members from disenrollment.
In response to a question by Miller, Kennedy said she cannot speak to why other Tribes are not following Grand Ronde’s lead.
“All Tribes are sovereign nations,” Kennedy said. “They determine who their members are. When there is a groundswell, I would think, of the membership expressing their desires … every Tribe looks at that differently. I can’t speak for my neighboring Tribe who deals with an issue in one way. I know that we are doing the best we can in recognizing our people. Perhaps other Tribes will look at what we’ve done.”
To listen to the entire 16-minute interview, visit www.opb.org.