Equating tribal citizenship with blood quantum

Almost all American Indian tribes make their citizenship decisions today based on family descent and a required amount of Indian blood, or what is called blood quantum.

Throughout their history, few tribes used such requirements in determining who could be contributing members of tribal societies. My own tribe, the Eastern Shawnee, captured and adopted a 7 year old American boy named by the tribe Bluejacket. When he grew up he became a famous war chief. Many people in my tribe today have the last name Bluejacket and are ostensibly his descendants.

But, as suggested and perhaps as imposed by the federal government, most tribes today think in terms of blood quantum and all Indians are often asked the question “how much Indian are you?”

Tribes are dealing with this issue and how much Indian blood to require for enrollment in a tribe.

It is my opinion that tribal governments will have to slowly change that thinking and will have to move to some other form of citizenship test and requirements in the future.

As an example of these kinds of decisions, it has been a little over a year since the Otoe-Missouria tribal citizens voted to lower the enrollment requirements from ¼ degree of Otoe-Missouria blood to 1/8. Since then, the tribe has seen an 88% increase in citizenship.

Chairman John Shotton says the motivation for changing the requirements was simple—a shrinking tribal membership.

“At the time we started this initiative, we had about 1,400 members,” Shotton says. “Many of those on the role were less than 1/2 Otoe-Missouria. This was due to a number of reasons, primarily intermarriage between other tribes and non-Indians. Something had to be done to address the issue, if enrollment requirements stayed unchanged, we would be facing a rapidly dwindling enrollment over the next 20 years or so.”

The referendum to lower the blood quantum requirement passed in June 2009 and has had a dramatic impact on the citizenship of the tribe. Prior to the change there were 1,363 enrolled citizens of which only 129 were below the age of 18. Today there are 2,560 total citizens and 479 of them are minors.

Chairman Shotton says these new members mean the future of the tribe is more secure both physically and financially. He notes that a majority of the departments and services offered through the tribe are funded by grants. The higher the number of tribal members served by the grants means that the grant funding is generally higher as well.

Yet, here’s another example of one tribe increasing its Indian blood requirement. The Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota just changed its requirement for tribal enrollment to require more Indian blood. Tribal citizens voted last week to allow only those with at least one-eighth degree Hidatsa, Mandan or Arikara blood to become enrolled citizens.

The move ends its practice of lineal descendency, which required only that a tribal citizen be a descendant of an enrolled citizen.

About 57 percent of voters favored the change. Sixty-three percent also approved a separate amendment that requires candidates for tribal business council and tribal chairman to have a minimum one-fourth Indian blood.

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