What do you do when someone tells you that you and your family aren’t who you thought you were? That’s happened to thousands of Native Americans in California and the nation, including right here in the Eastern Sierra.

According to the Native Times newspaper what’s called “disenrollment” of tribal members has sparked controversy in many tribes, “reducing tribal numbers and fueling lawsuits in tribes across the country.” The Native Times says that reasons for removal of names from tribal rolls can be as varied as treaty rights, casino dividends or revised membership qualifications. California tribes have created the most intra-tribal membership disputes. According to the Native Times, gaming revenues allocations are being blamed for the estimated 5,000 names of disenrolled California tribal members.

In the Eastern Sierra, members of the small Timbisha tribe say they recently received letters that claim they are disenrolled from the tribe. Many are outraged. One of those is Spike Jackson of Chalfant Valley. He believes gambling revenue may be at the bottom of this move.

We called the Death Valley office of the Timbisha Tribe and talked to Roberta Hunter, Interim Tribal Administrator. When asked why some tribal members have tried to disenroll others, Hunter said, “Right now, I have been advised by the Tribal Chair not to comment.”

Other disputes abound among the Timbisha. Dale Risling, Deputy Regional Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs said his agency is dealing with “leadership issues” among the Timbisha. Disputes rage over who is the rightfully elected tribal council.

Risling was not aware of a disenrollment issue. He said tribes have a process for enrollment and that usually the tribal constitution or an ordinance spells out the process for disenrollment, plus there is a right to appeal. Risling said that he believes for the Timbisha it takes the general membership to vote to disenroll members.

Jackson and other members have let the BIA know of their complaints. They now wait for some help.