Hoopa Tribe Enrolls 22 New Members
By ALLIE HOSTLER, Two Rivers Tribune
The Hoopa Valley Tribal Council enrolled 22 new members during a special meeting held last Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. The Council rejected their enrollment committee’s recommendation to postpone enrollment until February, when the committee was due to hold a quarterly meeting.
A Tribal Council directive to expedite remaining enrollment applications ruffled the feathers of dozens of tribal members, including the ad hoc committee that worked to get settlement money disbursement options on a special election ballot.
Although all 22 new members met the eligibility criteria, others argued that they not be included in the next settlement installment of approximately $5,700. The payment is expected to be mailed to tribal members this week and arrive sometime between Wednesday, January 16 and Monday, January 21.
When the Tribe announced its imminent settlement with the United States in March of 2012, their enrollment department saw a sudden and sustained spike in membership applications. Most were newborns, or young children, but a significant portion were adults seeking membership with the tribe.
According to the enrollment department, 106 minors and 40 adults were enrolled after a petition was put forth to allow a special election that would govern payment disbursements. A total of 3,117 members were enrolled when the first installment of $10,000 was paid on December 17, 2012.
At a general meeting held last fall to discuss settlement disbursement, the Tribal Council announced they would pass a resolution that would approve a one-time payout of $10,000 to each member. The resolution also imposed a November 15, 2012 enrollment deadline.
“…that to be included in the Per Capita payment, members must be enrolled in accordance with regular enrollment procedures on or before the date the Per Capita payment is authorized, that is, November 15, 2012,” the resolution reads.
The Tribe’s legal counsel advised the Tribal council that the November 15 deadline applied only to the first installment of $10,000. A second installment could, by her interpretation during the January 10 meeting, impose a second cutoff date for new enrollees to be eligible to receive a payment.
The Tribal Council approved a resolution during the same January 10, 2013 meeting authorizing the payout of the second and final installment. The same resolution established a cut off from enrollment as of midnight that same day, thereby including the newly added 22 members.
“We don’t have a problem with these 22 being enrolled today, but we don’t believe they are entitled to the payout,” ad hoc committee leader, Danielle Vigil-Masten said.
Vigil-Masten said the referendum measure, Question #1, that passed by a sweeping majority in a special election on January 3, 2013 would supersede any decision the Tribal Council made.
“You’re obligated by the referendum,” Vigil-Masten said to the five council members in attendance. “The results were certified on January 8.”
Vigil-Masten said the certification of results signaled the beginning of the Council’s legal obligation to carry out the immediate disbursement of remaining settlement funds. But, the issue of enrollment deadlines in the referendum language is non-existent, which could arguably provide a legal loophole allowing last minute enrollees.
That loophole may still be challenged in the Tribe’s court. Several lawsuits are currently pending in Tribal Court regarding enrollment issues, of which the outcome was unknown at press time.
Nearly a dozen prospective enrollees and their parents contacted the Tribe’s enrollment office on Friday, January 11. Several callers were upset and said they were under the impression they missed the November 15, 2012 deadline and were appalled that the Council moved to enroll more members without properly noticing prospective enrollees.
In regards to the November 15 enrollment cutoff, the Tribe’s Office of Attorney, Mary Jane Risling composed an email that outlined the criteria to receive the per capita payment.
“CRITERIA TO RECEIVE PER CAPITA: All Enrolled Tribal Members Living at 11:59pm on November 15, 2012.Pursuant to section 7.5 of Title 9, the Enrollment Ordinance of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, enrollment matters hall be taken up by the Council on a quarterly basis. November 15, 2012 was the final quarterly Council action on enrollments prior to the scheduled per capita payment,” the email read.
The enrollment committee took Risling’s email as clarification that no new enrollees would be considered until their next quarterly meeting in February and recommended the Council postpone enrollment. Quarterly meetings are outlined in the Enrollment Ordinance, however, more frequent meetings have been held to accommodate increased enrollment activity, and, the Tribal Council directed the enrollment committee to enroll everyone that was eligible by December 20.
Risling said that, in general, meetings are held quarterly, and that the circumstances warrant efforts to move toward more consistency.
The enrollment committee also expressed concern that the council was willing to enroll the 22 without first investigating or seeking documentation about pending complaints.
“We question any response or decision of this Council if approval is made, because no one Council Member has questioned, researched or asked to see any documentation from the Hoopa Valley Enrollment Office to prove or disapprove pending complaints (legal complaints pending in Tribal Court).
Of the 22 new enrollees, 17 are minors and five are adults. There are currently 3,139 members of the Hoopa Valley Tribe.
Of eight Tribal Council members five were in attendance; Diane McCovey-Ferris; Hayley Hutt; Byron Nelson; Augustine Montgomery and Margaret Dickson. All voted in favor of enrolling each new tribal member, except Montgomery.
Councilmember Ryan Jackson was absent because he was participating at an Affiliated Tribe’s of Northwest Indians meeting. Chairman Leonard Masten Jr. was absent due to a dental emergency. Councilmember Leroy Jackson was believed to be absent due to illness.