Blood Quantum


By John Marcus, Communications Specialist

What is blood quantum and why does it matter? If you are not a Native American, the question probably doesn’t carry much weight. Maybe similar to the question, “what is your zip code?” Everyone knows a zip code is used to deliver items or services. To a certain extent, that is true for why blood quantum is even a discussion. It is part of the delivery system to federally recognized American Indians.

Living here in Michigan we are right next to the Canadian border and blood quantum is also an issue there for similar reasons, some of which I will explore here. Please don’t expect this blog to be the definitive contribution to this subject, only my personal views and a contribution to a very large discussion.  In fact, I expect quite a few opinions and maybe a few corrections to come my way, but that’s fine. Important topics should have discourse.

Blood quantum is part of a system created by the U.S. government to deliver or distribute goods and/or services. This is the result of treaty obligations between the Native governments and the incoming governments. The earliest treaties were to resolve direct physical conflict. To put it in clearer terms, we will stop fighting if both governments agree to these things. Decades passed and more of the Native American resources were wanted by the American government resulting in additional treaties to enable that.

Familiarity with the weight of the phrase, blood quantum, derives from either you, your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents having been enrolled with a tribe around 1934 and it would have been peppered throughout your family discussions. On the other hand, you may have read up on this topic previously so you’re familiar with it on a certain level. It is around 1934 when congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act and this is when you really start seeing the ¼ blood quantum eligibility becoming a part of the language coming out of congress. If both sides of the previously mentioned role constructs were on it, you are 4/4 blood quantum. These days that is very rare. At least it was until the Red Lake Tribal Council made a recent resolution, but more on that later.

Nevertheless, to some the very mention of blood quantum will get their defenses up. To them, it is an attack on their spirituality. They want to follow the ways of  Native Americans because initially movies, books, or other media within american culture, introduced them to the concept. Then they start digging deeper into the native ways by finding media that has more authenticity, as in content credited to native americans. Add to this, they start researching their own family genealogy and see a glimpse of possible Native American heritage or while growing up someone in their family told them that great-grandma or great-grandpa had been married to a full-blooded indian, and now you have the makings for someone that truly believes they are Native American: they just can’t prove it.

Their next steps include interactions with like-minded people. If as a reader I am describing you, then American Indian Health & Family Services can help you end your search for spirituality. Sorry to pitch shamelessly for where I work (haha), but all our activities, even the sweat lodge, are available to you. You will be welcomed to come and share your appreciation for a way of spiritual life that has survived eons. Though our “services” from our behavioral health department and our medical clinic would not be as easily accessible to you because we do request you to bring your tribal identification card and certain rules apply to the use of it. If you don’t have a card, you can still use our medical clinic or behavioral health services, but you’ll want to talk to our billing department to find out if we accept your insurance, the associated co-pay or other options available to you, including a sliding fee scale based on your income. Ok, enough about AIHFS.

My experiences with blood quantum are as follows. I am enrolled with the Sault Ste. Maria(SSM) Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Michigan. Their approach uses descendancy instead of blood quantum. Meaning, if you can establish you are related to someone on their rolls from a designated time, then you are eligible to enroll. Since the SSM weren’t federally recognized until1972, this approach could reflect blood quantum was already an issue for Native Americans less than 40 years after congress began including it in their language.

I am eligible to enroll in Canada, but have not followed up with any paperwork. I’ve gone to the website and found it convoluted. My canadian cousin told me I should come down to the office and do it in person.

I’m not enrolled with the Taos Pueblo tribe of New Mexico even though I am ½ blood quantum. I visit my pueblo relatives at least once a year and they will casually bring up enrollment every now and then. They’ve always treated me like family, with or without a card, and that’s what I’ve valued most.

This brings up a rule that may be across the board with all American Indian tribes: you can’t be a member of more than one tribe at a time. I think I first heard this in the 90’s and unexpectedly I had a mini-identity crisis and was angry about it! While growing up my family always told me I had multiple tribal identities. I still will tell people all my tribes and then specify the one where I am enrolled.

Next, I’d like to share an experience about the tribe where I’m not “officially” enrolled.  This happened when my father passed away in 2016. As part of his funeral, I participated with the pueblo side of my family just as if I was a tribal member. No one asked me if I had my “card” or if I was enrolled at Taos Pueblo. To me that is what matters the most. Are you allowed to do the ceremony like a tribal member, if yes, then the system is working. It’s not perfect and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say it is or ever has been.

On Tuesday, October 8th, the Red Lake Tribal Council passed a resolution to change the blood degree of members. They voted, by  7-3, that every member enrolled on November 10th, 1958 would now be considered full-blood, or 4/4 blood degree. They said it was a great first step, but they need to figure out how to end the current practice of mathematical genocide. It will be interesting to see how the Department of Interior reacts to this.

http://www.redlakenation.org./events/red-lake-tribal-council-passes-new-resolution-to-change-blood-degree-of-members

Then, in Canada, there’s this example within the Fort William First Nation. In 1987 they scrapped the status requirement for membership. Subsequently, a non-native person by blood, but adopted by a member, was granted tribal membership.

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-tuesday-edition-1.4054748/how-a-non-indigenous-man-became-a-member-of-the-fort-william-first-nation-1.4054752

Taking all the preceding into account, the biggest determining factor of how you view blood quantum appears to be whether you are seeking goods and services or spirituality. In the pre-contact days, a tribe could ban someone. That person lost access to everything: goods, services, spirituality and family. That was the right of that tribe though, to decide who should and shouldn’t be a part of their people. That right still exists and is a benchmark of sovereignty. Each tribe has their own way of creating their enrollment requirements and certification. If they decide blood quantum is a determining factor then we have to respect their decision. However, if you are seeking spirituality then usually you can bypass the formal blood quantum requirement and find people willing to help you on your path.

I’d like to wrap this up with another interesting development. There is now a movie out called Blood Quantum and it is directed by Jeff Barnaby. Jeff identifies as a “rezzed out hillbilly, Mi’g Maq expatriate.” His words, not mine, although I wish I could take credit for them, (haha)!   https://twitter.com/tripgore?lang=en   The actors are mostly First Nations or Native Americans. This was just released in 2019. I watched the premier pre and post interview on YouTube.

In it the director said it is a zombie movie, but also it is meant to make you think about the idea of how blood quantum is affecting our Native communities. I’ve not been able to find it, but I look forward to watching it when I do!

Zombie movie, blood quantum info from IMDb https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7394674/

With that, I’ll leave you with a final thought to mull over. What is worse, mathematical genocide for tangible elements or a zombie-like apocalypse of our spiritual being?

Land Acknowledgments: The Importance of Acknowledging the Original People of Michigan

By Tara Maudrie, I-LEAD Program Assistant

Land Acknowledgements are a relatively novel concept to most people today, but to Indigenous people this concept is centuries old. Indigenous people for centuries have acknowledged that the land upon which they stood (and stand today) is not theirs to begin with but rather a gift from the creator. In most Indigenous cultures land was not ‘owned’ by people but rather a shared gift and resource. A common conservation theme among more modern Natives is that we do not own the Earth, we are borrowing it from our children and grandchildren. Although this is a cute saying shared all over Facebook and Pinterest, this truly was and is the philosophy of many Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples.

A Land acknowledgment is an act of reconciliation made by non-natives and native alike to acknowledge that the land they are standing on is not traditionally theirs. Many Native Americans who migrated or moved away from their traditional homelands often acknowledge the traditional people of the land they now occupy as well. For example, Mexica dancers who dance in Michigan Powwows often choose to acknowledge the Anishinaabe people before they dance.

The Mexica dancers at AIHFS’s 2019 Powwow & Health Fair

These simple statements, normally three to four sentences or less, remind all in attendance who hear this statement that Indigenous culture is simultaneously the past, present and future of this land and has been for centuries (Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples & Traditional Territory). This simple statement, which in some progressive schools is added before or after the Pledge of Allegiance, is a verbal reminder to hold yourself, and those around you, accountable to honor the land, the people who originally inhabited it and to protect the future of the land you stand on (Friedler, 2018). Land acknowledgements are more than just acknowledging the first people of the land, they are also honoring the land itself, and calling all of us to action to protect the land we stand on.

North Bar Lake at Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan.

Academic Universities’ responsibility to the traditional people of the lands which they occupy is far greater than most universities realize. Indigenous people are rarely recognized or discussed in the college setting, in fact in my entire career as a college student I have heard Native Americans mentioned twice without me specifically bringing up the topic of Indigenous people. Indigenous people are often wrongfully disregarded or forgotten in discussions regarding academia simply because they make up such a small portion of students. Statistics show that only 70% of American Indians graduate high school within four years (Oliff, 2017). While 60% of the general population who graduate high school continue onto college, only 17% of American Indian students continue onto college (Oliff, 2017). Only 13% of Native Americans hold a college degree and the number of Native Americans that hold graduate school degrees are so small that there are not even statistics available (Oliff, 2017). Currently Native Americans make up less than 1% of undergraduate students. There are many barriers that prevent Native Americans from completing college including: being first generation college students, being more likely to work in college, rural isolation and lack of familial support. Looking at these statistics it is no wonder that Native Americans are rarely discussed in academia, Native students make up the smallest portion of college students and quite possibly the smallest number of college professors as well. Land Acknowledgements are a step towards recognizing that the history of Native Americans portrayed in History books, or in pop culture are not the true stories or history of the traditional people of the land and to educate non-Natives about what they can do to foster an environment that will hopefully encourage more future Native students.

Land Acknowledgments are a positive way to begin making amends for the wrongs done against Native people. By acknowledging that the land of a University was not originally theirs, it is a small acknowledgment of the dark past of America that is seldom discussed. As stated by Know the Land, “Land acknowledgements do not exist in a past tense, or historical context: colonialism is a current ongoing process, and we need to build our mindfulness of our present participation.” Land acknowledgements are also an important reminder that Native people are not just the past of the land but also the present and the future. Too frequently Native Americans are referred to in the past tense, and many people forget that many Native Americans do still live in their traditional lands and are still a very real part of the continued existence of the land and a vital part of the community.

Friends of the AIHFS Sacred Roots Garden – Spring 2018

It is also important to remember that even though using Land Acknowledgements is a very important step towards creating a healthier relationship with Native people, a land acknowledgement is just that a step. In order to create a lasting and meaningful relationship with Native communities, there needs to be communication and a partnership with Native people. From an academic standpoint there are several things a University could do to help build this relationship. A land acknowledgment is generally one of the first and most important steps that is made. The next step that could be made is to make sure that Native history and culture are being taught from not just a colonial standpoint but also the Native point of view as well. A Native student organization can be made (I would make one but I unfortunately recently graduated). Creating a University’s Land Acknowledgement is a step in the right direction towards creating a healthier relationship with Indigenous people but in order to make this a meaningful acknowledgement, it needs to be more than just a statement in the beginning of a meeting. An acknowledgment should be a reflection for each person in the room to remind them of the past harmful relationships between colonial powers and Indigenous people and also to remind them that the past does not dictate the future, and that each person can do their part to create future positive relationships with Indigenous people.

This land acknowledgement was created with the intention of being used for a University in the metro-Detroit area. It is structurally based on Northwestern University’s acknowledgment and the City of Detroit’s by David Pitwanakwat.

This University sits on the traditional lands and territory of the Anishinaabe people, also known as the Three Fires of the Confederacy comprised of the Ojibway, the Odawa and the Potawatomi. Since the beginning of time it has served as an important and sacred place for these tribes and many other tribes throughout this region.

Today and everyday we acknowledge the peoples native to this land and the land itself. It is this University’s responsibility as an academic institution to respectfully discuss and educate about the traditional people of this land and the hardships they have faced and continue to face. Our intent is always to educate and enlighten, never to accuse or blame.

“By listening to your story, my story can change. By listening to your story, I can change.”

 

Resources:

Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples & Traditional Territory. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2018, from https://www.caut.ca/content/guide-acknowledging-first-peoples-traditional-territory

David Pitwanakwat. (He is in Law School at University of Windsor and University of Detroit Mercy and has experience writing Land Acknowledgments. He wrote both Wayne State’s and the City of Detroit’s.) Retrieved on October 1st 2018.

Friedler, D. (2018, February 09). If You’re Not Indigenous, You Live on Stolen Land. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://www.teenvogue.com/story/indigenous-land-acknowledgement-explained

Gurneau, J. (n.d.). Native American and Indigenous Initiatives. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://www.northwestern.edu/native-american-and-indigenous-peoples/about/Land Acknowledgement.html

Know the Land. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2018, from http://www.lspirg.org/knowtheland/

Oliff, H. (2017, May 16). Graduation Rates & American Indian Education « Native American / American Indian Blog by Partnership With Native Americans. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from http://blog.nativepartnership.org/graduation-rates-american-indian-education/

Editor’s Note: Since the submission of this posting Tara has moved on from our agency to pursue a Master’s of Science in Public Health with a concentration in Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. We wish her the best as she pursues her dreams!