Blood quantum laws

Blood quantum laws or Indian blood laws are laws in the United States and the former Thirteen colonies that define Native American status by fractions of Native American ancestry. These laws were enacted by the American government as a way to establish legally defined racial population groups. By contrast, many tribes and nations do not include blood quantum as part of their own enrollment criteria.

Members of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma around 1877, including some with partial European and African ancestry[1]

A person's blood quantum is defined as the fraction of their ancestors, out of their total ancestors, who are documented as full-blood Native Americans. For instance, a person who has one parent who is a full-blood Native American and one who has no Native ancestry has a blood quantum of 1/2. Nations that use blood quantum often do so in combination with other criteria. For instance, the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska requires a blood quantum of 1/4 Native American and descent from a registered ancestor for enrollment, while the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has no BQ requirement, and only requires lineal descent from a documented Cherokee ancestor listed on the Dawes Rolls, a specific census roll that still upheld racist stereotypes and blood quantum theories, and that supersedes other older rolls. Other Nations have a tiered system, with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma using lineal descent for general enrollment, but requiring a BQ of "at least one-fourth" of anyone who would run for tribal council.[2]

The Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears led to a major enumeration of Native Americans, and many controversies and misunderstandings about blood quantum that persist to this day. As they were being forcibly driven out of their ancestral homelands and subjected to genocide,[3] many Natives understandably feared and distrusted the government and tried to avoid being enumerated. But the only way to do this was to completely flee the Indian community, during a time of persecution and war. Indians who tried to refuse, if they were not already in a prison camp, had warrants issued for their arrests;[4] they were forcibly rounded up and documented against their will.[3][4] It is a modern-day misconception that this enumeration was the equivalent of contemporary tribal "enrollment" and in any way optional.[3]

The concept of blood quantum was not widely applied by the United States government until the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. At that time, the government required persons to have a certain blood quantum to be recognized as Native American and be eligible for financial and other benefits under treaties or sales of land.[5]

Native American nations have continued to assert sovereignty and treaty rights, including their own criteria for tribal membership, which vary among them. In the early 21st century, some nations, such as the Wampanoag,[which?] tightened their membership rules and excluded persons who had previously been considered members. Challenges to such policies have been pursued by those excluded.


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