Commentary: Just who is a Native American?
"With the rise of Indian gambling casinos all over the country — and in particular those 60 casinos in California with more on the way — the question naturally arises: Who exactly qualifies to call themselves an “Indian”?

The basic answer to what appears to be a simple question is that an “Indian” is whoever the particular tribe says is an Indian. Now any person can claim to be part Indian, just as many say they are part Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

Since the sympathetic attitude toward real Indians and descendants became a popular cause in recent decades and more recently, some Indian tribes and bands opened lucrative gambling casinos. More and more people are laying claim to be “Indian” or part Indian often with the hope of cashing in on the huge profit distributions in per capita payments paid out to tribal members of federally acknowledged Indian tribes, bands or communities with casinos.

The federal agencies charged with recordkeeping for recognized tribes refuse to get involved in the tribal enrollment practices, so enrollment is dependent, almost entirely, on tribal government and politics. Typically, there are controlling families within tribal groups who hold sway over membership issues.

There are several recognized groups of California “Indians” who have only one, two or perhaps a handful of members. So any new members admitted are often family members of existing members.

The only thing the responsible federal agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, will furnish is a calculation of the blood quantum of anyone seeking membership, if the tribe or band has such a limitation."

Get the Story:
Jim Marino: WHO IS A NATIVE AMERICAN INDIAN? (The Santa Ynez Valley Journal 6/25)