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It's Time for Tribes to Get Creative With Blood Quantum

The issue of blood quantum remains a long-running hot topic among Native Americans. I’ve always been a believer that people who are enrolled, or affiliated, with a recognized tribe will argue for their own circumstance when it comes to the issue of how much Indian blood it takes to be determined a card-carrying Indian.

For instance, if you’re a full-blooded Native person, with no known non-Indian ancestors in your family tree then you might feel that you are the only ‘real’ kind of Indian, or Native American (whichever you prefer). You might consider those who are mixed blood as “less than” or even a “wannabe.”

On the other hand, if you are of minimal Indian blood (let’s say a quarter-blood or 1/16th) then you will likely argue bloodline is not the most important thing about being Native. You might argue about being raised by your Native grandmother, even though she might be the only Native person in your family tree.

You might argue that language or cultural knowledge is more important than blood when it comes to being an enrolled member of a particular tribe. I base these opinions on my extensive experience hanging out with Indians of all tribes.

From all of the research I’ve done on my family tree I found only one non-Indian. In the middle of the 1800’s I had a great-great-great grandfather who supposedly was French. But you won’t see me applying for citizenship in France. Despite this my grandmother from that bloodline was listed on her tribal documents as 4/4 Ioway. In fact my other grandma and both grandpas were listed as 4/4. But all four were from different tribes – Sac and Fox, Delaware, Ioway and Omaha.

Here’s where blood quantum gets tricky. I’m listed on my Sac and Fox CDIB card as 1/4. My son is listed as 1/8. The Sac and Fox Nation lowered our blood quantum requirement from 1/4 to 1/8 in 1995. My son and I both consider ourselves as full-blooded Native Americans, but because of our inter-tribal bloodlines (his mother is Comanche and Navajo) our individual tribal blood quantum has been lowered incrementally with each passing generation. I know tons of Natives out there who are in the same boat.

I have been advocating for tribes to become more creative when it comes to blood quantum, but the argument has fallen on mostly deaf ears. This blood quantum system was put in place generations ago by the U.S. government and at first it seemed as though we might breed ourselves out of existence because of inter-racial and inter-tribal births.

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Then tribes figured out that all you have to do is lower your blood quantum requirements to keep the membership from dwindling. But when you lower your tribal blood quantum requirement it’s more inclusive but you open the floodgates for people with minimal Indian ancestry and perhaps no connection to our revered tribal ancestors. They are then eligible to become citizens and receive any and/or all benefits that come along with being an enrolled tribal member.

Keep in mind that once you lower your tribal blood quantum requirement, you may never be able to raise it back because people will not vote to disenroll themselves, and I think tribal governments disenrolling members at their own discretion is unethical.

How do tribes get more creative? Here’s one possible solution. Why not count all Indian blood when determining tribal blood quantum. Native Americans are already the most documented and regulated people in the country, so how hard can it be to make this a requirement? The burden of proof would be on the parents who want to enroll their child.

This is not a new idea. Tribes had been employing this concept when it came to who was a member of the tribe long before the ideas of blood quantum and pedigree were imposed on us. It was a form of adoption and excluded no one based on their mom or dad’s tribe, or their grandparents’ tribes.

You can throw in language development and cultural participation if you like, the way some tribes have changed their citizenship requirements, but when it comes to blood quantum it makes no sense to me to have people with one Native grandparent or great-grandparent who are enrolled and then you have people like my younger cousin who can document that she’s full-blooded but can’t get enrolled because of the various tribal requirements.

Tribes can do better than this. Let’s throw out the old system and become innovative and create one that is more inclusive. Keeping in mind that we have to draw the line somewhere.

Harlan McKosato is a citizen of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma. He is the Director of NDN Productions, an independent media production company based in Albuquerque.