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Understanding Indigenous Culture in ND Series: Tribal Makeup/Enrollment Part 3: Blood Quantum

Lineal dependency is one of the major aspects of Tribal enrollment. What it means is that to be a member of a tribe, you should be born from, or have a relation to someone who was named on the tribe’s base roll. The base roll is the list that contains original tribal members. This is usually designated in a tribe’s constitution.

A tribe’s specific enrollment requirements are usually found in its Tribal constitution, articles of incorporation, and ordinances. Every tribe also has an enrollment officer or office that can provide information on enrollment requirements.

When looking for Indigenous ancestry and conducting genealogical research, the US Department of the Interior suggests: 1) Your home for important documents such as marriage licenses and birth certificates, 2) Visit with relatives, 3) Local and state level whether town or courthouse records, 4) Public libraries or other repositories, 5) Federal level including the National Archives and Records Administration, 6) Records concerning ancestry to include American Indian Records collection, and 7) Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Blood Quantum is a scheme used by the government and tribes to substantiate the amount of “Native blood” a person has and essentially limiting native citizenship. The extent a person has is calculated in fractions, such as ¼ or ½. This measurement can affect a person’s tribal identity and capacity to become a federal member. Blood quantum, to classify native identity, was first witnessed during the land allotment period between 1887 and 1934. This time period involved the passing of the Dawes Act in 1887 and then the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The latter act gave tribes the authority to create their own enrollment qualifications.

In the Dawes Act post (Part 2 of Tribal Makeup-Enrollment), the blood quantum standard of one-half or more of “Indian blood” was employed to determine who obtained parcels of land. Women were excluded, and so indigenous males would have to document their blood quantum to receive the 160-acre parcels. Due to the blood quantum qualification, many people were ineligible, thereby effectively significantly reducing the Indian holding of land. Over 90 million of the 138 million acres originally designated as Indian territory were lost, and thousands of indigenous people were displaced from where they had originally settled.

Blood Quantum, assigning indigenous membership, has disastrous consequences. Blood Quantum strategies are exterminating in nature and will eventually lead to the extinction of indigenous people. For example, if the blood quantum limit is set at ¼ in tribal enrollment, along with intermarriages, indigenous people will eventually be defined out of existence.

Unlike any other ethnic group, Native Americans must continuously prove their identity. In order to be considered indigenous, you must be enrolled. Does any other ethnicity have to enroll to be a member of their own ethnicity? Do you have to enroll to be White? African American? Natives must carry a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB, issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs). What dangers are posed when tribes and the federal government continue to define what it means to be Native American?

Red Basket, Dr. Kathy Froelich, an MHA elder and CREA Indigenous Culture Coordinator suggests this classroom activity to educators: “We are more alike than we are different.”

Goal: Students will understand how American Indians are identified by blood quantum.

Step 1 – Students will watch the video:

Step 2 – Students will pick a tribe that they are interested in learning about its policy for enrollment.

Step 3 – Students will make a poster presentation showing findings about the tribe they chose (including location, enrollment policy, number of members, language).

· So What Exactly Is 'Blood Quantum'? : Code Switch : NPR

· Close to Zero: The Reliance on Minimum Blood Quantum Requirements to Eliminate Tribal Citizenship in the Allotment Acts and the Post-Adoptive Couple Challenges to the Constitutionality of ICWA (

· Blood Politics, Ethnic Identity, and Racial Misclassification among American Indians and Alaska Natives - PMC (

· Tracing American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Ancestry | Indian Affairs (

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