WASHINGTON – Native Americans have survived centuries of imported diseases, land capture, and forced assimilation. Today, many worry about another existential threat: blood counts—the system used by the U.S. government and many tribes to measure native ancestry and eligibility for membership.
Blood volume (BQ) is based on a simple formula: half of the combined degree of “Indian blood” a person’s parents have. So, if both parents have 100% Indian blood, their child’s BQ will be 100%.
But where bloodlines have been “diluted” by associations with non-natives, calculating BQ can be complicated, as published in a chart. 1983 Bureau of Indian Affairs Manual, and percentages are usually expressed as fractions. For example, if a man with half a BQ marries a woman with a quarter BQ, their child’s BQ will be three-eighths.
For thousands of years, native tribes understood “belonging” in terms of social kinship. However, settler colonialism introduced notions of race to determine social status, the ability to marry, hold office, or own land.
By the 19th century, terms such as “mixed-blood” and “half-breed” had joined conventions such as Osage in 1825, by which the United States set aside a separate reservation for “half-breeds”.
Gradually, BQ became standard test To decide who was eligible for land and treaty benefits.
In 1934, Congress passed Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), an effort to reduce government interference in tribal affairs. The new law, which recognized anyone with “half or more Indian blood”, urged federally recognized tribes to form a representative government, draft individual by-laws and constitutions, and set membership criteria.
More than 260 tribes accept IRAs and have set membership requirements. For some, it was genealogical descent from the individuals listed on the historical “base roll”. Others mandated a BQ of one-quarter or higher. Some decided on a combination of pedigree lineage, residence and/or BQ.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs issues a Certificate of Indian Blood Degree, a form of identification that certifies individuals’ BQs and eligibility for tribal membership.
But some Native Americans who follow the issue closely say that sticking with the BQ system for measuring ancestry is a recipe for disaster.
Jill Doerfler, head of the University of Michigan’s Department of American Indian and Indigenous Studies, one of six bands of the Anishinaabe (also known as the Chippewa) united under the governing body of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT), in the White Earth Nation Grown up .
“What the amount of blood does is racialise American Indian identity,” she said. “It’s an outlandish concept used to deprive natives and tribes of their legal and political status. And it’s the best way to end ongoing treaty obligations.”
Increasing urbanization and intermarriage with non-natives means that bloodlines are weakening, and as time goes on, fewer individuals will qualify as tribe members and lose the associated health and education benefits. .
“And if a nation has no citizens, then there is no nation,” Doerfler said. “There is no relationship that has to be maintained, and there are no services that need to be provided. The government can scrap the entire budget line of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
And then, she worries, the government could divide the tribes of all of their land, resulting in what is termed a “paper massacre.”
In 2012, MCT signed a contract with the Minnesota-based Wilder Foundation study population trends For MCT as a whole, and its six member bands—White Earth, Mille Lacs, Grand Portage, Fond du Lac and Bois Forte—individually.
“The study showed that if we keep the current one-quarter MCT blood volume requirement, we will see a pretty steep decline by the end of the 21st century,” said Mike Chosa, public relations director for the Leach Lake Band.
“In 2013, our population was around 41,000. And in 2098, they predict less than 9,000 members,” Chosa said. “And the faster you go out, the more quickly the numbers drop.”
Wilder looked at how the tribal population of the MCT would change over time if different membership criteria were applied – for example, allowing blood from other Chippewa tribes to enter the equation, or reducing the BQ requirement by one-eighth. Reduce.
Wilder concluded that by easing BQ restrictions, the MCT population would increase significantly. But for that to happen, the MCT will have to rewrite its constitution.
In 2018, MCT conducted a tribal survey to show interest in doing so.
“More than half were in favor of eliminating blood transfusions altogether,” Chosa said. “The other half was in favor of expanding the blood types that we would consider. In the end, it must be a personal decision for all native nations and tribes.”
This is not an easy decision, especially for tribes that share casinos and other income with members. More tribal population means less per capita payment.
The MCT plans to put the matter in a referendum and, if it passes, a secretarial vote.
Ultimately though, it will be up to the central government to decide.
“Unlike some tribes, our constitution was actually written by the Department of the Interior and approved by the Department of the Interior,” Chosa said. “So, if we want to change that, we have to go through the Department of the Interior.”