Havre Daily News
The Rocky Boy tribal council is considering a change to the tribe's membership rules - opening debate on one of the most sensitive issues on the reservation.
Membership determines a person's ability to get housing on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, to access tribal health and other programs, and even to cut wood on reservation land.
This week, a committee that oversees enrollment will discuss whether to expand membership to include the grandchildren of enrolled members, tribal enrollment director Jeanette Demontiney said. The blood percentage used to qualify people may also be changed, she said, though she would not say what possibilities are being considered.
"There's some touchy issues," said tribal attorney Dan Belcourt, who will help the committee review tribal enrollment policies. Belcourt, who is a tribal member, said any discussion of changing membership rules gets people's attention because members are protective of their status.
The committee will likely meet a few times and come up with a proposed new membership rule and then ask for public comment, Belcourt said.
Membership is also a matter of personal identity, an identity that Ken Standing Rock wants his granddaughter, 9-month-old Deion Rose Standing Rock, to enjoy.
Deion Rose lived with Standing Rock for several months this year and will probably spend time with her grandparents throughout her childhood, he said. In practical terms, enrollment at Rocky Boy may not mean a lot for her, but it could mean a lot for her personally, Standing Rock said.
Standing Rock's father was the nephew of Rocky Boy, and Standing Rock is also a descendent of Little Bear, who co-founded the reservation with Rocky Boy. Standing Rock said he wants his granddaughter to be part of that lineage.
The girl was born in Utah, and because Standing Rock's son gave up membership at Rocky Boy, she doesn't qualify to enroll.
Standing Rock is one of four people Demontiney said she knows are trying to get membership for a grandchild.
"This is a document ... that really needs to be amended," she said of the membership ordinance. "The needs of the people are not the same" as they were when the ordinance was first written in the mid-1980s.
That ordinance restated rules included in the reservation's 1935 constitution, Belcourt said.
According to the constitution, membership consists of all people enrolled on June 1, 1934, when the reservation was founded, children of members born on the reservation, and children of one-half or more Indian blood born to a nonresident member. People with one-half Indian blood can be added by adoption, subject to a vote of the people, the consitution says.
Demontiney said a new membership ordinance can be passed without amending the tribe's constitution, which would require a vote by tribal members, if it stays within the bounds of the constitution's rules for membership.
At a tribal council meeting earlier this month, council members said any changes to membership rules will be controversial.
Council member Brian "Kelly" Eagleman said that a public comment period should be scheduled before the council adopts any change in membership rules.
"Tribal enrollment is our past. It's our present. It's our future," Demontiney said. "Membership determines our leadership. Numbers determine the grants and the money we receive."