- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

WINNEBAGO, Neb. (AP) - A proposed change to Winnebago tribal enrollment could change the northeast Nebraska tribe’s future.

Tribal leaders have proposed that future Winnebago members be at least one-eighth Winnebago and one-fourth Native American, the Sioux City Journal (https://bit.ly/1qW8tGk ) reports.

The tribe currently requires enrolled members to be at least one-fourth American Indian.

Many people from other tribes throughout the country have enrolled as members since the rule doesn’t specify a minimum amount of Winnebago lineage, said Phyllis Ware, the tribe’s enrollment manager.

“We had 113 people that relinquished from other tribes to come here since 2009,” Ware said. “It’s diluting the Winnebago blood.”

Proposed changes require approval of currently enrolled members in a special election, which tribal officials hope to hold in July.

An attorney for the tribe, Danelle Smith, said that the Bureau of Indian Affairs would oversee the election, which the Tribal Council requested in May 2015. She said that enrolled Winnebago members ages 18 and older will be eligible to vote in the special election regardless of residency, but they must register in order to do so.

The measure would require a simple majority to pass. If it’s approved, existing Winnebago members who don’t meet the new requirements would be allowed to retain their membership, financial benefits and voting rights. The change would also allow applicants to appeal enrollment decisions to the Winnebago tribal court instead of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

Before 2009, the tribe required at least one-quarter Winnebago blood relationship to qualify to for enrollment as a member. An amendment approved that year allowed a parent or grandparent who belonged to the tribe to count blood relationship with other federally recognized tribes to meet the enrollment criteria.

“When they changed it back in 2009, they didn’t realize they didn’t set a minimum amount of Winnebago blood,” Ware said. “You could have 1 percent Winnebago blood and 99 percent whatever tribe.”

Currently, the tribe has nearly 5,300 members. Before the 2009 change, there were about 4,100 members.

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Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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