Proposed blood quantum rule requires scrutiny

For more than a decade, the BIA has attempted to terminate federal services to American Indians and Alaska Natives who do not have blood from a federally recognized tribe, despite legal authority to the contrary.

The BIA's latest proposal threatens the legal authority of Indian tribes to determine their own membership. It may also negatively impact the large number of unacknowledged and terminated tribes and their members, including Indians who reside on public domain trust allotments because they would no longer be considered "Indian" for federal purposes.

The proposed blood rule will limit the definition of "Indian blood" to only blood from the related federally recognized tribe, eliminating the other ways in which Indian people qualify for federal services under Federal Indian law. The BIA's recalculation of the blood quantum of tribal members could interfere with the status of members if the recalculation falls below the minimum blood quantum rule. I believe this rule is a knee-jerk response to the long-standing lack of criteria for determining adequate blood quantum procedures that account for the diversity of Indian country. Given that tribes have the right to determine their membership, I believe the time, energy and expense that the BIA is devoting to moving this rule forward could be better spent.

While this blood rule would impact many parts of Indian country, there are specific tribes ? like those in California ? that would be more impacted than others. For those 109 federally recognized tribes in California, this rule could have dire consequences. Prior to any formal listing of federally recognized tribes, the federal government established rolls of California Indians who it deemed qualified for the federal trust responsibility. These rolls were most frequently based on the tribe from which the individual's blood was derived, not from classification of the tribe as "federally recognized." All of the tribal representatives from California that I have spoken with on this issue are extremely concerned about the BIA's attempt to impose this blood rule without conducting adequate consultation with their tribal governments.

I am aware that BIA has held some consultation meetings with a few tribal governments on this issue, yet the BIA's action does not adhere to the spirit of consultation with all of Indian country that this type of change in Federal Indian law necessitates. Given the Bush Administration's recent commitment to uphold former President Clinton's executive order regarding tribal consultation, I imagine the BIA would be hard pressed to continue advancing this blood rule without more consultation.

I encourage all of Indian country to weigh in on this proposed blood rule by sending letters to the Department of Interior and BIA expressing your views on this plan. I also urge tribal governments to request formal and adequate consultation sessions with Interior and the BIA on this issue. I am seeking answers to several questions about the proposal in a letter of inquiry to Interior Secretary Gail Norton and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb. I will make this information available to Indian country when I receive their answers.

U.S. Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. D-N.J., currently serves as an active member of the Native American Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives. As a member of the House Resources Committee ? the committee with jurisdiction over all matters regarding the relations of the United States with Native Americans and American Indian tribes ? he has been a defender of the sovereign status of Indian tribal governments.