Ruth Hopkins: Blood quantum a dead end for tribal enrollment

"What does it mean to be an American Indian? For some, the answer is simple: one is American Indian if they possess a specific degree of Indian blood. This standard definition originates in the federal government’s enactment of blood quantum law. Under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the U.S. government used blood quantum, the degree of Indian blood a given individual possessed, to establish not only who was American Indian, but who was eligible for benefits under treaty law. Since then, Tribes have modified rules of membership under their inherent powers as sovereign nations. While degree of blood required for enrollment by Tribe may vary, the majority of Tribes still adhere to some form of blood quantum law.

In order for the standard ‘blood quantum law’ definition of who is American Indian to hold up, one must accept that identifying as an American Indian is based on blood as it pertains to race. Here, the ‘blood quantum law’ characterization of who is American Indian falls apart, because it is possible for one to be American Indian by blood and race, but not be a Tribal member, and therefore not be legally recognized as an American Indian. By definition, only federally recognized Tribes are legally recognized by the federal government; consequently, one who is not a member of a federally recognized Tribe, despite bona fide native ancestry, may not necessarily be defined as American Indian by the federal government. Furthermore, blood quantum law used in the determination of membership in federally-recognized Tribes has been defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as a political classification, not a racial one."

Get the Story:
Ruth Hopkins: In the Spirit of Our Ancestors (Indian Country Today 8/31)

Related Stories:
Ruth Hopkins: Pretending to be an 'Indian' is patently offensive (8/22)
Ruth Hopkins: Learning to live in balance with all Earth's species (8/15)

Join the Conversation