WASHINGTON – Pascua Yaqui tribal leaders asked a House committee Tuesday for the same right that most other tribes already enjoy – the ability to decide who’s a member of their tribe.
Pascua Yaqui Chairman Peter Yucupicio told a House Natural Resources subcommittee that there are more than 800 people who deserve tribal membership, but they cannot be admitted because of an outdated law governing when people could be put on the rolls.
A bill sponsored by Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, and Paul Gosar, R-Flagstaff, would amend the 1978 law recognizing the tribe, which put a deadline on the period during which people could be admitted. The new law would lift the time limit and let the tribe determine its membership.
“It would allow us, as a sovereign nation and as a sovereign right, to enroll those people who missed those deadlines,” Yucupicio said.
The bill would not only let the tribe to determine its own membership criteria, but would also provide it the same rights as any other federally recognized tribe, said Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Michael S. Black.
“The bill will allow the tribe a very important right – the right to determine its own membership criteria without parameters and restrictions imposed by the federal government,” Black said.
When the Pascua Yaqui won federal recognition in 1978, those who were part of the Pascua Yaqui Association or living among the people were allowed to apply for tribal membership, said Marisela Nunez, the tribe’s enrollment director.
“Those that applied and were identified as Yaqui … appear today on our original base roll,” she said.
Under the current law, individuals who now want to become members of the southern Arizona tribe cannot do so unless they have predecessors on the base roll, Nunez said.
The 1978 act was amended once before, when the tribe petitioned Congress in 1994 and won an additional three years of enrollment – referred to as the open enrollment period.
During that period, Nunez said any U.S. citizen with at least one-quarter Yaqui blood could apply for membership, not just direct decedents of base-roll members.
“We have approximately 800 Yaqui people who are seeking membership who are not the children born to, but are siblings, aunts, cousins and uncles,” Nunez said. “They live within our communities and participate in our ceremonies.”
Yucupicio said the criteria for becoming a member of the tribe would not change if the bill passes, as expected. The Yaqui constitution will still require applicants to be U.S. citizens, but the decision would otherwise be left to the tribe.
Yucupicio said the tribe expects to keep the same blood standards for now, but could change that in the future.
“The specific objective of the bill is for the tribe to start recognizing some of our lateral ties – those relatives who unfortunately missed those application deadlines ’cause they already had passed,” he said.