Hollywood's Portrayal Of Tribal Disenrollment Is Another Bad Look

Amidst the furor about Adam Sandler's racist depiction of Indians in his forthcoming movie, consider another narrative about Indian C0untry that is increasingly being told by Hollywood and its Indian actors: Disenrollment. Two examples: In the first episode of the second season of Red Road last month, Phillip Kopus (Jason Mamoa) learns he has been disenrolled from the fictional Lenape Tribe for having been convicted after a shoot-out.


In last season's House of Cards---which, like Sandler's "satire," is produced by Netflix---the following plotline unfolded:

Doug Stamper travels to a Missouri casino owned by the fictional “Ugaya” Native American tribe and run by a greedy tribal chairman that has recently disenrolled an unknown number of tribal members. Leaders of the band that was booted meet with the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs because they want to be federally recognized . . . which would allow them to be able to open a casino. Federally recognized tribes have government-to-government relationships with the U.S.


The Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs was played by Gary "Litefoot" Davis, who, in his role, says something about disenrollment to the effect of: "The federal government does not get involved in internal tribal affairs."  As Fusion columnist wrote about the House of Cards episode:

While fans and critics of the show alike are getting a kick out of pointing out the incorrect minutiae within House of Cards, this Native is happy that a popular scripted series is touching upon a very real modern issue for Indian Country . . . and that they featured real Native American actors no less!

Although it is certainly refreshing that Native actors are acting a true plotline in Indian Country today, it is regrettable that our Hollywood portrayal to mainstream America relates to our self-termination.  That only fuels non-Indian belief that tribalism should end.

It is also too bad that the attention that only Hollywood can draw to issues needing social justice, isn't being brought to very real, yet noble, issues like Indian Country's modern fight against tribal teen suicide, reservation domestic violence, and Indian over-incarceration.

Gabriel “Gabe” Galanda is the Managing Partner at Galanda Broadman. He belongs to the Round Valley Indian Tribes. Gabe can be reached at 206.300.7801 or gabe@galandabroadman.com.