Curing the Tribal Disenrollment Epidemic: In Search of a Remedy

This Article provides a comprehensive analysis of tribal membership, and the divestment thereof—commonly known as “disenrollment.” Chiefly caused by the proliferation of Indian gaming revenue distributions to tribal members over the last 25 years, the rate of tribal disenrollment has spiked to epidemic proportions. There is not an adequate remedy to stem the crisis or redress related Indian civil rights violations. This Article attempts to fill that gap. In Part I, we detail the origins of tribal membership, concluding that the present practice of disenrollment is, for the most part, a relic of the federal government’s Indian assimilation and termination policies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Part II, we use empirical disenrollment case studies over the last 100 years to show those federal policies at work during that span, and thus how disenrollment operates in ways that are antithetical to tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Those case studies highlight the close correlation between federally prescribed distributions of tribal governmental assets and monies to tribal members on a per-capita basis, and tribal governmental mass disenrollment of tribal members. In Part III, we set forth various proposed solutions to curing the tribal disenrollment epidemic, in hope of spurring discussion and policymaking about potential remedies at the various levels of federal and tribal government. Our goal is to find a cure, before it is too late.