Friday, January 13, 2012

For real? Tribal membership and blood quantum

I have a Certificate of Indian Blood (CIB). And it says that my Indian blood quantum is 4/4 and I am a member of the Navajo tribe. This entitles me to free health care and a whole bunch of exclusive scholarships and programs. In some cases, rich (casino) tribes issue monthly checks and “per-cap” checks to all their members. In some cases, tribes pay for utilities, homes and education.

My Certificate of Indian Blood (CIB)

You can see how non-Natives would be enticed to register with a federally recognized tribe to get all these benefits. And you can see how tribal leaders might become greedy and cut their membership down by a few thousand members to increase their own pay out.
That part of the issue seems to rear its ugly head most often. It’s awful to hear about tribes cutting their membership, especially small tribes. It’s an abuse of tribal power for money, I say.
Tribal officials will turn around and say that they are cutting out the people who are not qualified, or have less than adequate Indian blood quantum, and they are taking advantage of the tribe — these things that are rightfully owed to Natives.
I’m torn.
The tribe is right to clear out those who do not have the correct amount of Indian blood, especially when their financial resources are limited.
I can’t imagine being “cut” from the tribe. In fact, I never gave much thought to this issue. It never affected my family because we’re all full-blood Navajo. We’ve never had to explain that way back in our lineage we had a Native American grandmother.
The truth: each tribe has the right to determine who is part of the tribe or not. The U.S. government has no say in this matter because tribes are sovereign governments. Having the power to decide who and who is not part of the group is all part of being a sovereign nation.
I think this power is sometimes abused when tribes decide to lower their Indian-blood quantum and suddenly kick out hundreds or thousands of members ... “members.”
Then again, the tribe may not be able to support everyone so cutting those with less Indian blood makes sense. Cut the halves or cut the sixteenths? Sometimes they have no choice. Sorry to Mr. Blonde Hair-Blue Eyes.
I’m going to say it like I think it is: Sometimes full-blood Natives do not take “mix bloods” too seriously, especially when they look totally Caucasian, or they never lived on their land before or they don’t know anything about their own culture or language.
There is an attitude there and I sometimes have it. Being Native doesn’t mean saying you’re Native. It’s living like one, knowing something about your land, people, culture and history.
Sometimes it is just a number or piece of paper, but if you have a number or paper, be happy that you do. This country has tried hard to get rid of you, but they failed. You’re living proof.
It’s pretty sad to think about this issue because it looks like the Native population could decline in the next few generations. Take me for example: If I had children right now, they would only be half Navajo. Whose to say my son or daughter will have a non-Native partner too? My grandchildren will be a fourth Navajo and my great-grandchildren will be an eighth Navajo, which, technically, isn’t Navajo.

Update Jan. 26 — Statistics state that 2.3 million of 5.2 million people, almost half, who claim to have Native heritage, also claim another race. That's up from just 1.6 million in 2000, according to recent U.S. census data. Read the story here.

Read a column about the same issue here.

“How did tribal membership/blood quantum come about?” you ask.
During the General Allotment Act 1887 the government gave each individual Native a piece of land; a brilliant plan on the U.S.’s part because this Act allowed them to legally steal more Indian land.  They rounded the tribes up and gave them enrollment cards. Sometimes they brought in scientists to measure their features and faces. Thousands of Natives were not given enrollment cards or tribal identification.
On top of that they put Indian land in trust for only 25 years. When 25 years was up, the Natives had to pay regular taxes and fees on their land, which they could not afford. Many Natives sold their land or had it “legally” taken away.
They thought this would help the Natives by forcing them to live like Americans; a piece of land, a house and a farm. But the Natives have been nomads since their origins; living off the land and moving around with the seasons. This Act threw the Natives further into poverty.


  1. Blood quantum is a touchy issue. I like this blog because of its honesty. I too have never put much thought/worry into my own amount of Native-ness. College course like Federal Indian Policy showed me the issues that are more relevant to my life now that when I was actually living on the reservation. Outside the reservation I have to show proof of my Indian blood...
    I am also torn as to agreeing with tribes that only become greedy or tribes that are really endangered of losing their "federal recognition"... touchy issue that more Native should educate themselves about. Sovereignty allows our own people to decide.

  2. This is a good subject. I am glad that I'm full blooded Navajo.

  3. I am doing a field research paper for a under graduate business class on the pros and cons to lowering the blood quantum but unfortunately there is not a whole lot of statistical data out there that supports the issue, if someone could point me in the right direction I would greatly appreciate it.

  4. I am 7/8ths Native American of the Moses, San Poil, Quapaw, frog Mt, and French Decendancy. To some limit i agree with you on the control of blood quantum acceptance level. Some tribes are irrashional about their choices. Some People do have the proper blood liniage than others and may not look the way you portray as to be 'native'. That subject is also a flip of a coin to worry about. There is a fine line where you insult and where there is proper control. Careful how you express that concern and problem.
    Thank you.

  5. How does a person check to see how much indian blood one has?

  6. I had a thought that I wanted to share here. I am an enrolled citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. What does that mean? That I had to have at least 1/4 degree Lakota blood from my reservation to enroll (and a total "blood quantum" of 15/16). It also means that many others are not able to that live on the reservation. These same people are participants in our ceremonies, know our language and have been raised in the way of our people.

    It is true that the Navajo Nation has many "full blood" members, but this is a guesstimate. No one knows if certain individuals had lineage of peoples from Mexico or another Tribe or perhaps any of a dozen other answers, as you yourself said they had military persons measuring characteristics such as facial features and skin color. Admittedly this is both far from scientific or telling of a persons real blood quantum.

    The whole idea of blood quantum voids any arguments about who is and is not Indian, as blood quantum was never a part of our traditions as a whole on this continent. So, in reality it is truly an argument of the selfish.

    I think that an argument that is worthwhile is one of humility. When looking to other tribes and Indian Country as a whole, it's important to look upon our own first. Few people point on the unfortunate occurrences of XP in the Navajo Nation that geneticists have linked to inbreeding of the people (, fewer talk about the idea of an adoption of a government that has endorse and sold the reaping and raping of the land (

    In close, although I think it's worthy of everyone to look at their issues. For me blood quantum is simply a paper genocide introduced to our people by the government and our endorsement of it is just a self defeating policy that will extinguish us if we don't scrap it.

    Just my thoughts.

  7. this is timely to me right now,
    you see my family are Cherokee , the Cherokee who did not go to Oklahoma, and who did not participate in the Eastern tribe buying the land in NC. because of this, we and many others are not on the rolls, this means that we are not included in the tribe due to not being on the rolls, and blood quantum levels are pretty much useless unless you are a relative of roll names......So, what makes you Cherokee or Navajo, Lakota or Miami? is is just the color of your skin?
    Even some "chiefs" have had minor blood qauntum levels.....I am proud of my mothers history, my heritage, my family hid in the mountains until the federal goverement left the NC, thats how we became intertwined with non Cherokee blood, we just never went back to our ancestrial I piece this all together i find the same question? what makes me who by the way, am roughly 2/3 Cherokee, white or Cherokee?

  8. Reply to the Cherokee comment. No true Cherokee hid... Not to mention if your family were with, around, living with the Nation there would still be documented information . Even pre-Trail of tears . As The old settlers... They left prior However they are still Documented. If you cant prove you are Cherokee you just are not Cherokee.

    (Cherokee wannabe)-White persons claim) My grandmother was a Cherokee Prin.... (((Smack))) shut up your white..

  9. what is 5128 blood quantum and 564, 532, 516? how do I properly write these quantums? .5128 or 5128th, 564th etc.?

  10. I am grateful for Bobby's comment. It is sad to see the hatred for 'white' people. Why must we sit around and throw out who is 'more Indian' than the next? So you look white, sorry you aren't accepted? How shameful this is. Our ancestors would shake their heads. No one can tell you if you are or are not Indian (Cherokee or otherwise) just based on if you are on the white mans roll count. I am so saddened by the ignorance of so many 'full bloods' and the like. If you were really Indian, in the sense of your heart and soul rather than 'blood' than you wouldn't have to not take 'mix bloods' as a joke. I do not believe there is any 'full blood' of any race in this country anyway, mostly living so close to the border of Mexico. How about open your hearts and minds a little bit instead of just hating on those identifying with being native, dont you think being 'mix blood' already makes some feel inferior already, why make it worse for your own people? Shameful!!!!!!!!!!

  11. All the tribes that fight over the blood quantum issue just prove that native people's biggest enemy is themselves, not "the man" as they all whine about. Natives, like all tribal people, European included, have always fought against other tribes and been subject to jealousy, greed, and infighting long before European conquest.

  12. Wow. That really just hurts me to think that I may not be enough Navajo to be a welcomed member if one at all. I've been told by Hopi and Navajo people that I look Navajo even.