A Column By

Jack D. Forbes

Native American Studies

University of California, Davis

This column's focus:



Many Native People have become so used to the idea of "blood quantum" (degree of "blood") that the racist origin of this idea is forgotten. It's use started in 1705 when Virginia adopted laws which made both a person of American race and a person of half-American race ( a "half-blood" in other words) as legally inferior persons.

Kevin Gover, ex-Bia head, issued proposed changes in the way the BIA calculates a Certificate of Degree of Indian or Alaska Native Blood (CDIB). They are being carefully reviewed because of their use of the unscientific blood quantum ideology, their ignoring of treaties with tribes, and because of the role that they will play in Indians terminating themselves.

The possibility exists that numerous persons of full American indigenous racial ancestry will be counted as mixed-bloods and that, gradually, American Indians will be eliminated as a people as they marry non-Indians or currently non-Federally recognized Natives.

The proposed regulations are in direct violation of most treaties with Native tribes, very few of which contain any provisions relating to the use of blood-quantum to determine eligibility for treaty-guaranteed services. Significantly, the proposed regulations do not refer to Indian treaty law as having any applicability and this in itself is very scary. It means that Gover's BIA is not recognizing treaties, which is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, since treaties are a part of the "supreme law," as well as being contracts.

The regulations also specifically violate the Indian Reorganization Act and a relevant court decision. The IRA specifically states that Federally-recognized Indians can be persons of 1/2 or more Indian blood, even if they are not a member of a recognized tribe. Under this clause a group of Lumbees were certified by anthropologists as being of 1/2 or more American race, but the BIA refused to recognize them. The Lumbees went to court and won, in the case of Maynor. The proposed regulations completely alter the meaning of the IRA clause by arbitrarily defining "Indian blood" as being only that from a Federally-recognized tribe as published in the Federal Register. This absurd change totally distorts the IRA's intent, since a person who is 1/2 blood from a Federally-recognized tribe is already covered by the IRA and needs no special provision. But the intent here is clearly to amend a Federal statute, which cannot be done by means of administrative regulations..

The proposed regulations also make it impossible for an adopted child, even if of American race, to be recognized as having any Indian blood, unless the latter is fully documented as coming from a Federally-recognized biological parent. This pernicious idea violates thousands of years of Native American adoption practice as well as earlier Bureau procedures. Tribes have always been able to adopt anyone they wished and therefore that practice is part of North American Common Law and treaty law. The BIA never inquired into the adoptive status of persons originally enrolled in the nineteenth-century. In any event, tribal sovereignty is violated when the BIA seeks to invalidate tribal adoption laws and customs.

It is an oxymoron to refer to "Federally-recognized Indian blood" since the government could not possibly examine our "blood" except through the new DNA procedures, and then we might find that we are descended in our female line from one of the 6 or 7 founding Native females of this entire hemisphere, or from one of the small number of founding males. But here's the rub: none of these American ancestral lines are "Federally-recognized" because they cover all of us from Alaska to South America! Genetically, we are pretty much all one Native People!

It is astounding to see the BIA using the discredited concept of "blood" as being something inherited! It is absurd to speak of receiving "1/8" or"1/16" "blood" from an ancestor. What do we do: take a flask of their blood and pour it in? This type of pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo has no place in Federal government language. I know a person who has been an outstanding Indian leader all of her life, but two of her grandparents were white. Are her children supposed to say: "MY MOTHER IS HALF OF AN INDIAN"? Was Cherokee chief John Ross "an eighth of an Indian"? No way!

Ancestry is a complicated matter, in that children with the same parents may end up with quite different sets of characteristics, except in the case of identical twins. We know that cultural and psychological factors play a determining role in whether a child chooses to live as an Indian or as a non-Indian. We all know how important such things as language are, that is, do we speak an American language; or how important participation in Native ceremonies, gatherings, and activities is. What does this have to do with how many now-departed Indians we are descended from?

The proposed regulations are also invalid in that they claim to not have any economic impacts, impacts on small governments, "small entities" or on the taking of property. I would disagree, because if one loses one's Indian identity or if tribes are terminated because of low "blood quantum" the impacts are economic, psychological, and severe, as witness the condition of still-terminated California rancherias. Contact Neal McCaleb at the Department of the Interior and also Karen Ketcher, BIA, 101 North 5th. Street, Muskogee, OK 74401 or Refer to "1076-AD98."

(Professor Jack D. Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, is the author of AFRICANS AND NATIVE AMERICANS, ONLY APPROVED INDIANS, RED BLOOD and other books. Visit his web page at <> .All rights reserved by Jack D. Forbes. Phone: 530-752-3626/3237 Fax: 530-7527097