“Who Belongs to the Snoqualmie Tribe?” is the question encased in the headline atop a story in today’s Times about enrollment disputes in the Snoqualmie Tribe. Tribes decide for themselves who can be a member, typically relying on bloodlines but also generational enrollment records. In Snoqualmie’s case, contemporary tribal records are at odds with original records collected in the early 1900s. This isn’t just about preserving history or lineage records. Last year, arguments about enrollment and the impact on tribal voting eligibility became so fractious, there was talk of a federal takeover.
Across the country tribes are engaged in battles over enrollment, a painful conflict as much about identity as about money. The so-called Freedman dispute is undoubtedly the largest and most divisive, painting African Americans who claim tribal status against tribes.
Stakes are high. Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes outlines them in today’s story, “At stake at Snoqualmie is not only identity and the right to vote and hold office, but money. The tribe’s casino just outside Seattle is pulling in more than $200 million a year by one estimate. The tribe is mulling an expansion that could boost revenue even more, for a tribe numbering only about 650 members.”
How the revenue pie is sliced, and who is allowed a piece of it, is literally the million-dollar question.