“Being Enrolled Never Got Me Anywhere”

I’m currently in the process of helping my daughter enroll in Choctaw Nation. I’ve talked with other Native Americans about enrollment. Some non-Natives think that Native Americans get tons of “benefits.” For most tribal people, that’s just not so.

But if it were so, these are not “benefits” in some strange sense. And there’s no need to be jealous. These are things that come along with being a citizen of a nation. Just as people who are citizens of Sweden get various things, such as universal healthcare, so too do some Native people get things by being a citizen of their nation. If you are a non-Native and want so-called benefits, you have the power to shape your government so that you, too, can get universal healthcare.

But let’s think about these things for a moment. Everyone who wishes to be a member of a nation, currently, in international law, has the right to not be “stateless.” Being stateless can be lonely place, if it’s not chosen. Many rights come about through being a citizen of a nation.

So when you enroll, you are becoming a full-standing citizen of a nation. It doesn’t matter if there’s any perceived material benefits to this or not. And if you want so-called benefits, you now, just as non-Native Americans in the United States, have the opportunity to shape your tribal government.

So when I hear Native people say that being a tribal citizen never got them anywhere, which I have heard them say, I wonder if they are not thinking of tribes as nations properly. It’s true that, just as women can be sexist, Native people can have colonial thought seep into their thinking. Let’s not let this happen.