Tribal Per Capitas, Disenrollment & Academia

“Obviously, disenrollment is about the money" -- Ben Hinmon, Saginaw Chippewa Disenrollee

More precisely, disenrollment is about tribal per capitas.  Is there an economic level at which per capita distributions do not trigger self-termination tendencies?  Sadly, there is no empirical data that bears that out.

Consider this New York Times article, "What happens when the poor receive a stipend?," about the research findings of Jane Costello, an epidemiologist at Duke University Medical School.

For the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Dr. Costello concluded that per capitas--which she insightfully refers to as income "supplements" or "stipends"--seemingly helped Cherokee families: "Minor crimes committed by Cherokee youth declined. On-time high school graduation rates improved..."

Critically, Dr. Costello posits, "the supplements weren’t enough for members to stop working entirely."  Instead: "The supplements eased the strain of [a] feast-or-famine existence. . . Some used the money to pay a few months’ worth of bills in advance. Others bought their children clothes for school, or even Christmas presents."  All good.

But what Dr. Costello apparently failed to evaluate is whether tribal per capitas/income supplements contributed to the disenrollment of several hundred Eastern Cherokees.

Indeed, nobody in academia has to my knowledge ever seriously looked at the societal impacts of, and the correlation between, tribal per capita distributions and mass disenrollment.

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That is because those issues remain taboo within the Indian Country academic establishment, despite the current Indian disenrollment epidemic and the ability of our brightest minds to identify the causes and develop the cures.

As a Native person rightfully commented on a recent column by Professor David Wilkins: "There are no easy answers but I believe academia deserves as much of the blame as anyone for not facing this reality and attacking it head on."

Gabriel “Gabe” Galanda is the Managing Partner at Galanda Broadman. He is a citizen of the Round Valley Indian Tribes. Gabe can be reached at 206.300.7801 or