Ancestry vs Blood Quantum
In the United States there are 562
Native American tribes that are federally recognized. For the last decade these
tribes have seen an influx of new applications for tribal membership. After the
Dawes Act of 1887 was established, blood quantum was the basis of proving
tribal identity for most tribes in the western United States. Blood quantum requires at least one sixteenth
of the blood to be Native American. However, in the mid-west and eastern part
of the United States, most tribal memberships are proven by lineal ancestry
recorded in the census report provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. But
each tribes process of determining tribal membership varies from tribe to
tribe. While the tribes use this process to protect themselves, it can also
have detrimental effects on the Native American community. Now that I have
given the background on tribal membership, I will talk about the negative and
positive effects it has on tribes and their communities.
The flood of new tribal memberships
is caused by the boom of Indian Casinos and the small stipends that they pay
tribal members. To protect their profits, most tribes have tightened their
membership qualifications by blood quantum and DNA testing. According to the
article in the LA Times, “The Meskwaki Nation in
Tama, Iowa, began requiring DNA testing this spring to screen out pretenders
seeking to cash in on the tribe’s casino profits.” In 2002 Indian
Casinos in California earned an estimated 3.6 billion in revenue (465). This
new wealth has brought new life to the once poor Native American communities.
It has helped bring much needed relief to the tribes by bettering their
infrastructure, housing, and education. But obtaining these tribal member benefits
also has negative effects on the tribal communities.
Blood quantum and DNA testing for
tribal membership is paper genocide to Native American communities. According
to the textbook, “half of all marriages are currently with non-Indians and the
rights of descendants are diluted in one case but not the other”. The blood
lines of Native Americans have been greatly diluted with the influx
Euro-American culture. Children that are raised on Indian reservations but have
a diluted blood line won’t be entitled to the many benefits of the tribe. Also,
blood quantum and DNA testing are not always 100% accurate. According to the LA
Times article, “genetic and genealogical ancestry
aren’t in perfect sync. Although every person has four grandparents, their DNA
isn’t passed down in equal proportions. As many as 35% of one’s genes can be
traced to a maternal grandfather”. This way of testing can also be considered
racism because a person is not only defined by their blood and DNA. I believe a
person is defined by their culture and traditions rather than their DNA.
The boom of
Indian Gaming and federal funding has led to an increase in tribal membership
applicants. Indian Casinos have raked in billions in the last decade and have helped
improve the quality of life for those communities. To protect their profits, tribes have used
blood quantum and DNA testing for tribal membership applicants. This way of
testing is not always a 100% accurate and the blood lines of Native Americans
have been greatly diluted with cross cultural marriages. Blood quantum and DNA testing
can be considered racist and threatens to undermine Native American communities.
The moral ethics of quantum blood and DNA testing will continue to be challenged
with the constant growth of Indian gaming.
Oswalt, W. H. (2009). This land was theirs: a
study of Native North Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.
Karen Kaplan | Times Staff Writer. (2005,
August 30). Ancestry in a Drop of Blood. Retrieved January 15, 2018, from