Leaders of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, from left: Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, Seminole Nation Chief Leonard M. Harjo, Muscogee Nation Chief James Floyd, Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton and Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker. Photo: Chief Bill J. Baker

Bill removes blood quantum requirement for citizens of Five Civilized Tribes

A bill that addresses a long-standing blood quantum issue in Oklahoma has been introduced in the U.S. House.

Under a law known as the Stigler Act of 1947, citizens of the Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation, the Muscogee Nation and the Seminole Nation -- also known as the Five Civilized Tribes -- are treated differently when it comes to their allotments. They must possess at least one-half Indian blood in order for their lands to be held in "restricted fee" status.

The status is important because it protects Indian lands from state and local taxation, regulation and jurisdiction. It also makes it harder for non-Indian entities to acquire such lands.

But citizens of the Five Civilized Tribes whose blood quantum falls below the standard have their lands automatically converted to "fee" status whether they like it or not. That opens them up to state and local encroachments.

Additionally, leasing, probate and other activities are handled in state court, another disparity that the new bill seeks to address.

“Introducing this amendment to the Stigler Act will allow for past precedent to be current with the realities of Native-owned, restricted land,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), who is a Chickasaw citizen, said in a press release.

“Many of Oklahoma’s citizens have passed out of ½ blood lineage, but remain vested to their Native American heritage,” Cole said. “Removing the ½ blood degree prerequisite and expanding its range to any degree will help preserve the rights and legacy of Native American tribes and their inheritance.”

Leaders and citizens of the Five Civilized Tribes have long called for the removal of the blood quantum requirement. They note that it will help keep Indian land in Indian hands and treats them in a manner similar to nearly every other tribe in the United States.

But prior efforts to address the disparity have been controversial. Even though the Bush administration actively supported the change, opposition from Oklahoma's energy industry, state officials and conservative lawmakers derailed it back in 2002.

The industry claims it won't be able to develop Indian lands as easily if they have to follow federal, rather than state, regulations. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), who advocated for those interests when he held up an earlier version of the bill, remains in office.

“As Native Americans, we take great pride in our heritage and the land that our ancestors maintained before us,” said Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), who is a Cherokee Nation citizen. “The Stigler Act Amendment would allow Natives to pass on their restricted land to future generations who may not meet the ½ blood degree requirement."

The bill is H.R.2606. It has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, whose Republican leaders have taken unusual views of the allotment era, the land-into-trust process and other federal Indian laws and policies.

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