Forsaking The Individual Indian

As commercialism progressively overwhelms tribalism, in shocking ways, we are also increasingly losing sight of the longstanding importance of the individual Indian.

It was the individual Indian who signed the Treaty that saved the lives of his entire kin under threat of war in the 1850s. 

It was the individual Indian who staved off the genocide of her entire tribe in face of Congressional termination efforts 100 years later. 

It was the individual Indian who was later jailed for defending Treaty fishing rights against state rule.

Without the individual Indian, there would be no Indian fishery, no Indian gaming, no Indian economy—no Indian Country. 

Tragically the most fundamental human rights of individual Indians are under siege—by other individual Indians who abuse the peoples’ power and trust.

Those fundamental indigenous human rights include “education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing…health and social security,” and, above all, “belong[ing] to an indigenous community or nation.”  U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Arts. 1, 9, 21. 

And, attaching to each those indigenous human rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are the rights to equal protection before the law and to live free of discrimination, and to receive an effective remedy for illegal governmental acts that violate any of those fundamental rights.

These violations are most plain in the tribal disenrollment context, where the individual Indian is denied not only her right to belong, but to educational and job opportunity, to housing and health care, and to “social security” via per caps—almost always without equal protection tenets or any remedy at law.

Disenrolling tribal “leaders” deliberately forsake the individual Indians who they are terminating; perhaps unconsciously they also forsake the individual Indian warriors and ancestors who made or kept their tribe a tribe.

When Grand Ronde Confederated Tribes politicians caused the disenrollment of 86 direct lineal descendants of Chief Tumulth—who was hanged after he signed the Treaty with the Kalapuya—they, unbelievably, forsook their Treaty Chief. 

When the Colville Confederated Tribal Council once disenrolled a family of tribal members, they forsook those Colville political warriors who saved them from Congressional termination less than a decade prior. 

When the Nooksack Tribe proposes to disenroll 306 members—including Nooksack fishing and canoe family members—they forsake all of those Stevens Treaty defenders who risked their lives on the frontline of the fishing wars.

If the trend of disenfranchising and disenrolling the individual Indian persists, what will be left?  Will The Tribe eventually be forsaken?

Gabe Galanda represents Indian peoples, practicing law in Seattle with Galanda Broadman, PLLC. He descends from the Nomlaki and Concow Tribes, belonging to the Round Valley Indian Confederation.