New Book Includes Gabe Galanda's "The American Indian Middle Class"

A new book, "The American Middle Class: An Economic  Encyclopedia of Progress and Poverty," includes a chapter authored by Gabriel Galanda, titled "The American Indian Middle Class."

Gabe discusses the Dawes Act of 1887, the Urban Indian Relocation Program of the 1950s, federal Indian self-determination laws and policy since the 1970s, President Reagan's Commission on Indian Reservation Economies of the 1980s, and of course Indian gaming since 1988 primarily.  He concludes: "As Indian self-determination has firmly taken hold, so too has a tribal middle class."

An excerpt:

Then of course there was, and is, Indian gaming.  What began with high-stakes bingo on various reservations in the 1970s has since the passage of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988[1], blossomed into a now steady $28-billion industry.[2]  Although Indian gaming has most certainly catapulted thousands of reservation Indian families out of poverty and into much higher income brackets, the new money of Indian gaming per capita distributions has created a unique, unemployed segment of the tribal middle class.  Ho-Chunk, Inc., CEO Lance Morgan has indicted those distributions as a “new form of welfare [that] is just the latest in a cycle of dependency that Indian Country has been trying to break out of for the last 100 years.”[3]  

That new money has also catalyzed the ejection of tribal members en masse through what is called tribal disenrollment, a process of terminating members’ citizenship with their tribal government. As the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently took occasion to remark about what is in essence tribal self-termination: “membership disputes have been proliferating in recent years, largely driven by the advent of Indian gaming, the revenues from which are distributed among tribal members.”[4]  In what has been described as a disenrollment epidemic, thousands of Indians—in 17 states and from over 60 tribes—have been jettisoned in recent years, relegating some of them into the lower class, if not abject poverty, and otherwise leaving them “culturally homeless.”[5]  Disenrollment has, thus, uniquely caused socio-economic stratification within tribes.[6] 

Meanwhile, those Indians who remain tribal members and still receive gaming per capita monies may not have made the definitional “sacrifices to create a better life for themselves,”[7] but they nonetheless comprise part of the tribal middle class.

The chapter was written in 2014, before undergoing an elaborate editorial and publication process. Disenrollment has increased in the interim.  As of today, nearly 80 tribes in 18 states have engaged in disenrollment, with an estimated 9,000-10,000 Indians having been terminated.

Gabriel S. Galanda is the managing lawyer of Galanda Broadman, PLLC, in Seattle. Gabe is a descendant of the Nomlaki and Concow Tribes, belonging to the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Northern California.

[1] 25 U.S.C. 2701 et seq.

[2] Press Release, National Indian Gaming Commission, 2013 Indian Gaming Revenues Increased 0.5%  (Jul. 21, 2014), available at

[3] Stephan Cornell et al., Per Capita Distributions of American Indian Tribal Revenues: A Preliminary Discussion of Policy Considerations 1 (Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy & The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, Occasional Paper No. 2008-02, 2007).   

[4] Alto v. Black, 738 F.3d 1111, 1116 n.2 (2013).

[5] David E. Wilkins, Two Possible Paths Forward for Native Disenrollees and the Federal Government?, Indian County Today Media Network, June 4, 2014; Cedric Sunray, Tribes Abandon Traditional Aspects of Inclusion,, Oct. 20, 2014, available at; Gozia Wosniacka, Disenrollment Leaves Natives ‘Culturally Homeless,’” Associated Press, Jan. 20, 2014, available at

[6] Gabriel S. Galanda, Disenrollment Causes Tribal Classism, Income Inequality, Native News Network, June 29, 2015, available at

[7] John Parker, Burgeoning Bourgeoisie, The Economist, Feb. 12, 2009, available at