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Bid to lower Navajo blood quantum rejected
Friday, April 23, 2004

A proposal that could have doubled the enrollment of the largest tribe in the country was rejected on Thursday by the Navajo Nation Council.

Council delegate Ervin Keeswood sponsored the legislation to lower the tribe's one-fourth blood quantum requirement to one-eighth. Approval could have increased tribal enrollment from about 310,000 to more than 600,000.

But amid concerns of the potential impact on tribal services, the council in its final action of the session rejected Keeswood's legislation by an overwhelming vote. Only 18 delegates voted for it compared to 44 against.

Another delegate, LoRenzo Bates had sought to delay the proposal until the fall session so that more information could be collected. But that too was rejected by a vote of 26-37.

The Navajo Nation is already the largest tribe in the country in terms of enrollment. An increase in the rolls could have led to a greater share of federal funds but tribal leaders were worried the tribe might not be able to handle the influx.

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. was one of those who spoke against the measure. Saying that the decision shouldn't be left to the council alone, he called for a referendum to go before the Navajo people.

"While the intent appears to be, that, by decreasing the blood quantum, there will be an increase in our population and thus, more federal dollars coming into the coffers," he said this week. "However, the consequence is that the Navajo Nation may face additional responsibilities to provide the newly enrolled members with rights, and access to the decreasing resources available from our Navajo Nation government."

Shirley wasn't convinced that more money would flow to the tribe either. He cited the Bush administration's budget plans, which call for reductions at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and only slight increases at the Indian Health Service.

"This scenario is not likely to change with the war going on and more and more monies being diverted to that cause," he said.

The one-fourth requirement has been part of Navajo law since 1951. Other tribes have adopted similar standards while some have none at all, choosing to base enrollment on lineal ancestry.

The second largest tribe in the country is the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Enrollment is not based on blood quantum but on the Dawes Roll, a list of Cherokee citizens complied in the late 1800s and early 1990s. Anyone who can show descent from a person on the roll is eligible for enrollment.

The Navajo Nation Council held its 20th spring session all this week. Delegates approved a wide range of legislation, including funding for Native American Studies at Rehoboth Christian School in New Mexico, a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for a loan from the Native American Bank and an audit of the Navajo Boys and Girls Club.

Relevant Links:
Navajo Nation Council - http://www.navajonationcouncil.org
Navajo Nation - http://www.navajo.org

Related Stories:
Navajo president wants public vote on blood quantum (4/22)
Navajo Nation may lower blood quantum requirement (4/19)

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