Interesting history about Tribal membership
I am often asked questions about the history of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and our standard for who can be a citizen of our Tribe. As most readers are aware, to be on our rolls, a person needs to prove direct descendancy to a person or persons on the Citizen Potawatomi allotments from the 1800s.In other tribes, particularly in California, there has been a wave of involuntary disenrollment of members. The underlying motivation of these has been a desire to keep enrollment numbers down to keep “per-cap” payments healthy. The more members to share the pie with, the smaller the pieces become.
In the course of my time as legislator, all but one disenrollment voted upon has been voluntary, and those voluntary relinquishments had more to do with members who have the blood of two tribes who decided to align themselves with a tribe that had benefits better suited to their needs. The one involuntary enrollment had to do with a member who was receiving financial benefits from another tribe, which is forbidden under our constitution (2007).
By definition, a tribe is a group of persons, or more likely families, that share culture, tradition and space. The Potawatomi aligned themselves with several tribes, including the Menominee who lived in the same general area, intermarried and shared traditions. Some of my ancestors come from this group. However, my ancestors on the Tribal rolls were Louis Vieux and Narcisse Juneau and their families.
They say that history has many currents. If so, the American Civil War was a tidal wave. One of the many side notes of our history was that Citizen Potawatomi bought our reservation from land that was “available” because it was taken away from the Seminole Nation as punishment for their allegiance to the Confederates in the Civil War. Other tribes were also impacted, and that history is relevant today with the Cherokee Nation, one of the “Five Civilized Tribes” that had large tracts of land in Indian Country as part of their removal west of
The Cherokee homeland was Georgia, and many of them had acquired black slaves, as their white southern neighbors had for agriculture. By the start of the Civil War, there were reported to be as many as 4,000 enslaved blacks among the Cherokee. At the end of the war, the Cherokee signed a treaty granting all the freed slaves “all the rights of Native Cherokees.”
In 2007, the Cherokees amended their constitution making Indian blood a requirement for membership in the tribe; disenrolling 2,800 members descended from the original Cherokee Freedmen.
The debate between the two sides of the Cherokee Freedman took two different perspectives.
“It has everything to do with who can be an Indian in an Indian tribe. The right to define tribal membership lies at the core of tribal identity and self-governance.” — Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma in 2007.
Marilyn Vann, one other the leaders of the freedmen descendants, fought to regain tribal citizenship. She stated, “I would not take a million dollars to give up my treaty rights and legal rights to citizenship.”
After a decade of legal wrangling (decisions, appeals, etc.), in 2017, the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the freedmen descendants and the U.S. Department of the Interior, granting the descendants full rights to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Nation accepted the decision, and the debate has quieted.
As always, it is my honor to represent you in the legislature.
Representative, District 8
520 Lilly Road, Building 1
Olympia, WA 98506