More than 200 members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Mount Pleasant are expected to face the possibility of disenrollment from the tribe Thursday.
The issue was prompted by different interpretations of how enrollment is determined in the tribe’s constitution.
Paula Fisher is the attorney for the members facing disenrollment. She said originally their cases were dismissed with prejudice five years ago, but the tribe re-wrote the enrollment ordinance which changed the rules.
She said if the members are disenrolled it would impact them in a number of ways.
“It can mean their jobs if they were hired based on a preference for Natives. They can lose their positions,” Fisher said, “They can lose their homes if they live on trust land and built homes on trust land. They can be required to leave. But they certainly won’t have health care benefits. They won’t have access to the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver. So if they’re in the middle of getting their college degree or in many cases advanced degrees the funding that they were counting on to better themselves will dry up and it will no longer be available.”
She said there are a number of issues behind the move to disenroll members. One of them is that the amount of money the tribe pays its members from casino profits is declining.
“There’s been a downturn in the gaming industry in Michigan for a couple of reasons,” Fisher says, “One is there’s a lot more casinos that there was 10 years ago. And another is so many people left the region. So the gaming dollars are fewer and there’s much more fierce competition for them so yes revenue is definitely down.”
She said other contributing factors to disenrollment center on whether leader are in favor of certain ways of tracing membership and there are mixed feelings in the tribal community.
A spokesman for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe declined to comment on the disenrollment issue.
Thursday’s hearing is expected to last several hours. Fisher says a decision on whether the tribe can move forward with attempts to disenroll members is expected as early as Friday. The hearing is not open to the public and only certain tribal members are allowed.