Do Not Be Silent: The Importance of Speaking Up Against Tribal Disnerollment and Political Corruption in Indian Country

By Kristen Debler


My grandmother once told me that you don’t know where you’re going in life if you don’t know where you came from. This lesson has been the foundation that I have built my life upon and part of the path that I walk on a daily basis. As a proud member of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (Coast Miwok), I do not make any decisions without considering the effects it will have on my family and my community. After all, all my decisions will affect the present and current generations.

Being California Indian is precarious for many reasons. History seems to be a major factor since we have been fighting to save our existence since the day the Spaniards set foot on our shores. The federal government has been trying to exterminate our religion, culture and traditions for over 300 years by assimilating us into their society. They almost succeeded. In the 1950s the government took away the federal status of many tribes in California. Mine being one of them. It was so bad that we couldn’t even meet and share our culture, language, songs and dances with our children. Because of this I grew up missing out on my rich cultural heritage. I was robbed of my ancestry and I couldn’t figure out why I felt broken.

In 2001, after many years of fighting, our tribe was reinstated by an act of Congress and signed by President Clinton before he left office. Now we were able to pick up the pieces and re-build our communities again; along with so many other tribes. Well, today there is an even bigger threat that is hindering our very existence. This threat is bigger than any that we have ever faced before. The threat that we are facing is coming from inside by banning and disenrolling fellow tribal members like they were rival enemies. The very place that was safe is now attacking everything that we hold dear. Our ancestral legacy.

But why?

Some people blame it on greed, political corruption and ancient feuding. I would have to say that they are all right. In order for any community to rebuild, they need capital, resources or both. Within California, tribal casinos have become a huge commodity because they provide a business with a fast pay out (with certain limitations of course). These businesses become instant successes and people who have never been in this place before become the very thing they said they never would. They let personal greed cloud their judgment and affect the decisions that they now make. By disenrolling members, they are getting rid of tribal citizens who they feel pose a threat to their leadership. By getting rid of those who question their policies, council seats are now filled with their family members and their rise to power increases.

But, what they don’t know is who they are truly hurting. They don’t know the true repercussions of their actions.

By stripping tribal citizens of their membership status, we are sending a message that tribes are just clubs or organizations that can choose who belongs and who doesn’t. However, this isn’t the case. Tribes are not clubs or organizations who share certain morals or hobbies. Tribes are made of family, community, language, and religion. Tribes are made up of a rich heritage, culture and traditions. We have a bloodline that ties us together. A bond that can never be severed. No matter how hard people try. It is a legacy that we hold within our hearts and pass onto our children.

 So, when corrupt tribal leaders attempt to strip our rights as citizens, they are really tearing apart our legacy for our future generations. They are fueling the fire for outsiders to question our legitimacy because all they see is us fighting amongst ourselves.

As a proud tribal citizen of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, legacy of the Coast Miwok, and a fellow Native American, I cannot stand for this injustice. I cannot stand back and watch this happen to our people. I cannot sit back idly and watch the destruction of our legacy by the hands of our own brothers and sisters. Because if I do sit back and watch this atrocity, then I am no better than those who are destroying our legacy.

When I was growing up, my family taught me the importance of standing up for what I believe in. They taught me the importance of speaking for change, of speaking the truth, even if I am standing alone. We all have a choice at certain times in our lives: to be silent or to speak up. Now is our time to speak.

This week, National Geographic aired the Malala story and it really inspired me. Here was a girl who was met with adversity, and danger because of her choice to speak up against those who were trying to destroy all that she cared about. She was targeted and shot in the head, in order to silence her. But it didn’t silence her. It actually inspired her.

Malala is a young woman who fights to protect education around the world. We as tribal citizens need to educate ourselves and read our tribal constitutions, bylaws and other rules that govern our communities. We as tribal citizens need to be educated in how our tribal governments run, so that we can make the proper decisions as members. We need to attend monthly meetings and vote. We need to make our voices heard. We need to let our tribal council and other elected officials know that we will use our voice, that they cannot silence us. We need to educate our members to vote for a clause that protects citizens from disenrollment, because it is imperative to fight for our heritage.

In the documentary, He Named Me Malala, Malala’s father talked about his political activism against The Taliban. He said that it was a sin for him to keep silent and he felt guilty if he did not raise his voice. This was his way of protecting his family. He couldn’t sit idly by and let them intimidate him. I agree with this statement. What are we teaching our children if we sit back and do nothing?

Sitting Bull once said that “the warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.” It is our responsibility to protect our way of life, our culture and legacy for our future generations. Do not let our ancestors fight to preserve our future be in vain. Speak up against the corruption and the cultural genocide that has been afflicted upon us. Let us heal and rebuild our communities.

Please sign my petition to ban tribal disenrollment and stop tribal corruption at: . Please visit these sites on Facebook for more information: #STOPTRIBALGENOCIDE and Disenrollment.





Published by Kristen Debler