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Blood quantum laws or Indian blood laws is legislation enacted in the United States to define membership in Native American tribes or nations. "Blood quantum" refers to describing the degree of ancestry for an individual of a specific racial or ethnic group, for instance, 1/4 Omaha tribe.
Its use started in 1705 when Virginia adopted laws that limited colonial civil rights of Native Americans and persons of half or more Native American ancestry. The concept of blood quantum was not widely applied until the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The government used it to establish the individuals who could be recognized as Native American and be eligible for financial and other benefits under treaties that were made or sales of land. Since that time, however, Native American nations have re-established their own rules for tribal membership, which vary among them. In the early 21st century these rules have been used to exclude people who had previously been considered members, such as in the case of the Cherokee Freedmen.
The blood quantum law or "Indian Blood law" was passed by European Americans to regulate who would be classified as Native American and thus eligible to receive federal benefits. The first such law was passed in 1705 in Virginia, but at that time it was used to restrict the rights of people who were half or more Native American. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the US government believed definition of tribal members was required, as it made treaties with the nations and paid tribal members benefits or annuities for land cessions.
Many Native American tribes did not use blood quantum law until the government introduced the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Some tribes, such as the Navajo Nation, did not adopt the type constitution suggested in that law until the 1950s. Critics contend that because the blood quantum laws required individuals to identify as belonging to only one tribe, despite their ancestry, some lost multiple tribal memberships, and overall numbers of registered members of many Native American tribes have been reduced.
"The U.S. census decennial enumerations indicate a Native American population growth for the United States that has been nearly continuous since 1900 (except for an influenza epidemic in 1918 that caused serious losses), to 1.42 million by 1980 and to over 1.9 million by 1990." In the 2000 census, there were 2.5 million American Indians. Since 1960, people self-identify their ancestry on the US Census.
For decades, tribes have established their own requirements for membership. In some cases, they have excluded members who had long been part of the tribe. An example of a tribal membership requirement is one based on documented lineal descent from a Native American member listed on the Dawes Rolls, or an early 20th-century census. Unlike the provisions of the Indian Reorganization Act, many tribes allow members to claim ancestry in more than one tribe.
Tribes have established their own criteria for membership. Given the new revenues that many tribes are realizing from gambling casinos and other economic development or from settlement of 19th-century land claims, some have established more restrictive rules to limit membership.
Such actions have led to charges of racial injustice and controversies such as that of the Cherokee Nation's 2007 vote to exclude those Cherokee Freedmen with no ancestors on the Cherokee-by-blood Dawes rolls, although the Cherokee Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that they were legitimate members of the tribe in 2005. Similarly, in 2000, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma's attempted to exclude two bands of Seminole Freedmen from membership to avoid including them in settlement of land claims in Florida, where Seminole Freedmen had also owned land taken by the US government.
Since 1942, the Seminole have at times tried to exclude Black Seminoles from the tribe. The freedmen were listed separately on the Dawes Rolls and suffered segregation in Oklahoma. More recently, the Seminole refused to share with them the revenues of 20th-century US government settlements of land claims. The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed an amicus brief, taking up the legal case of the Black Seminoles and criticizing some officials of the Bureau of Indian Affairs for collaborating in this discrimination by supporting tribal autonomy in lawsuits. By treaty, after the American Civil War, the Seminole were required to provide Black Seminoles with all the rights of full-blood Indian members.
"American Indian tribes located on reservations tend to have higher blood quantum requirements for membership than those located off reservation....[reference to table] [O]ver 85 percent of tribes requiring more than a one-quarter blood quantum for membership are reservation based, as compared with less than 64 percent of those having no minimum requirement. Tribes on reservations have seemingly been able to maintain exclusive membership by setting higher blood quanta, since the reservation location has generally served to isolate the tribe from non-Indians and intermarriage with them.
Many Native Americans have become used to the idea of "blood quantum". The blood quantum laws have caused problems in Native American families whose members were inaccurately recorded as having differing full or partial descent from particular tribes. In some cases, family members or entire families have been excluded from being enrolled as members of their tribe even when they have no non-Native American ancestors.
At certain times, some state governments classified persons with African American and Native American admixture solely as African American, largely because of racial discrimination related to slavery history. This was prevalent in the South after Reconstruction, when white-dominated legislatures imposed legal segregation, which classified the entire population only as white or colored (Native Americans, some of whom were of mixed race, were included in the latter designation). It related to the racial caste system of slavery before the American Civil War. Until 1870 there was no separate classification on the census for Indian.
The Lumbee, a group that appeared to organize from a variety of peoples on the North Carolina frontier in the 19th century, achieved state recognition as Croatan Indian after Reconstruction. This separate status allowed them to establish a school system for their children distinct from that for freedmen's children.
The question of identity is complex. Award-winning researcher Paul Heinegg and Dr. Virginia DeMarce found that ancestors of 80 percent of free people of color (including individuals on the census later claimed as Lumbee ancestors) in the 1790 and 1810 censuses on the North Carolina frontier were descended from families of white women and African men, and were free in colonial Virginia because of the mother's status. Many mixed-race people in frontier areas identified as Indian, Portuguese or Arab to escape racial strictures.
In 1952 the Croatan Indians voted to adopt the name of Lumbee. (They were settled near the Lumber River, also called the Lumbee.) They achieved limited federal recognition in 1956 as an ethnic Indian nation by a special act of the US Congress, and accepted at the time that it was without benefits. Since then, they have tried to appeal to Congress for legislation to gain full federal recognition. Their effort has been opposed by several federally recognized tribes.
In other cases, because mixed-race children were often raised in the mother's Native American culture, United States society considered them to be Native American, despite European ancestry. (As the trappers, traders and soldiers on the frontiers were mostly men, most European-Native American unions were between European men and Native women.)
In 1924 Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act, which required that every individual be classified as either white or black. (Some other states adopted similar laws.) In application, the law was enforced to the standard of the "one drop rule": individuals with any known African ancestry were classified as black. As a result, in the censuses of the 1930s and the 1940s, particularly in the South's segregated society, many people of African American and Native American descent who were either biracial or multiracial were largely classified as black. The result negatively affected many individuals with mixed African American and Native American descent. Because there are few reservations in the South, such individuals needed to provide evidence of ancestry to be enrolled in a tribe. The changes in historic records erased their self-identification as Indian. During the early years of slavery, some Native Americans and Africans intermarried because they were enslaved at the same time and shared a common experience of enslavement. Others made unions before slavery became institutionalized, as they worked together.
Today, the proposed regulations for children adopted into Native families are that they are unable to be federally recognized members unless they have a biological parent who is enrolled in a tribe. Such cases of adoption are probably less frequent than in the past. Historically, especially recorded during the colonial years and the 19th century in the American West, many tribes adopted young captives taken in war or raids to replace members who had died. Whether European or of another Native American tribe, the captives generally were fully assimilated into the tribal culture and were considered full members of the tribe. Generally, they remained with the tribe, marrying other members and rearing their children within the cultural tradition.
In some cases, census rolls for tribes such as the Cherokee were incomplete due to intermarriage, immigration, treaties, or because the members were not living within the boundaries of the nation, and thus would not be recorded on the census. As noted above, however, many people self-identified on the US Census but are not eligible for tribal enrollment.
Some critics argue that blood quantum laws helped create racism among tribal members. The historian Tony Seybert contends that was why some members of the so-called Five Civilized tribes were slaveholders. The majority of slave owners were of mixed-European ancestry. Some believed they were of higher status than full blood Indians and people of African ancestry. Other historians contend that Cherokee and other tribes held slaves because it was in their economic interest and part of the general southeastern culture. Cherokee and other tribes had also traditionally taken captives in warfare to use as slaves, although their institution differed from that which grew up in the southern colonies.
No federally recognized tribe enrolls members solely based on DNA testing. Many researchers have published articles that caution that genetic ancestry DNA testing has limitations and should not be depended on by individuals to answer all their questions about heritage.
Popular culture has come to believe that many African Americans have Native American ancestry and some historians argue that most African Americans have Native American ancestry. However, in the PBS series led by historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr., called African American Lives, a few geneticists argued that African-Native American admixture is relatively rare. In his associated book, Gates summarized the information:
Only 5 percent of African Americans have at least one-eighth Native American ancestry (equivalent to one great-grandparent). On the other hand, nearly 78 percent of African Americans have at least one-eighth European ancestry (the equivalent to a great-grandparent), and nearly 20 percent have at least one-quarter European ancestry (the equivalent to a grandparent.)
However, Y-chromosome and mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) testing looks only at "direct" line male and female ancestors and thus can fail to pick up many ancestors' heritage. Some critics thought the PBS series did not sufficiently explain the limitations of DNA testing for assessment of heritage. More significantly, current DNA testing cannot distinguish among separate Native American tribes. Furthermore, newer DNA tests can survey all the DNA that can be inherited from either parent of an individual, but at a cost of precision. DNA tests that survey the full DNA strand focus on "single nucleotide polymorphisms" or SNPs but SNP might be found in Africans, Asians, and people from every other part of the world. Full survey of DNA testing can not accurately determine an individual's full ancestry.
Many Native American tribes continue to employ blood quantum in current tribal laws to determine who is eligible for membership or citizenship in the tribe or Native American nation. These often require a minimum degree of blood relationship and often an ancestor listed in a specific tribal census from the late 19th century or early 20th century. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, for example, require an ancestor listed in the 1924 Baker census and a minimum of 1/16 Cherokee blood inherited from their ancestor(s) on that roll. Meanwhile, the Cherokee Nation requires applicants to descend from an ancestor in the 1906 Dawes roll (direct lineal ancestry), but does not impose minimum blood quantum requirement. The United Keetoowah Band requires a minimum 1/4 blood quantum.
The Ute require a 5/8 blood quantum, the highest requirement of any US tribe. The Miccosukee of Florida, the Mississippi Choctaw and the St. Croix Chippewa of Wisconsin all require one-half "tribal blood quantum", also a high percentage.
At the other end of the scale, the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma requires only 1/16 documented heritage. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon require a combined minimum of 1/16 from any of a list of several Oregon indigenous peoples.
Some tribes, such as Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town and the Wyandotte Nation, require an unspecified amount of Indian ancestry (known as "lineal descendancy") documented by descent from a recognized member. Others require a specified degree of Indian ancestry but an unspecified share of ancestry from the ancestral tribe or tribes from which the modern tribal entity is derived, such as the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Many modern tribes are confederations of original tribal peoples joined into a single political entity.
Other tribes require a minimum blood degree only for tribal members born "off" ( outside) the nominal reservation. This is a concept comparable to the legal principles of Jus soli and Jus sanguinis in the nationality laws of modern sovereign states. Below are listings of blood quantum requirements of federally recognized tribes.
(equivalent to one parent)
(equivalent to one grandparent)
(equivalent to one great-grandparent)
(equivalent to one great-great-grandparent)
(equivalent to one great-great-great-grandparent)
These tribes do not have a minimum blood quantum requirement; however, this does not mean anyone with any amount of Indian blood can enroll. Members must be direct descendants of original enrollees.
Native American populations increased considerably during the 20th century. Increasing urbanization and intermarriage may affect their futures as distinct peoples tied to geographic areas. Nations with high blood quantum requirements may have to change their rules for tribal membership or see their numbers decrease. Each tribe will deal with the issue in its own way, and with reference to whether it has a large reservation, urbanized population, cultural revival, etc.