09:00 AM

Native American Tribal Enrollment and DNA Testing -- Part One


Quoting from the US Department of the Interior website:

Tribal enrollment requirements preserve the unique character and traditions of each tribe. The tribes establish membership criteria based on shared customs, traditions, language and tribal blood.

For genealogists, the term "tribal blood" opens up a whole collection of related topics. Regularly, I received questions from individuals pursuing a traditional family connection to a Native American ancestor. This is one of those "tip of the iceberg" issues. While I was working at the Mesa, Arizona FamilySearch Library, we had frequent requests for help with Native American research with the objective of the researchers to obtain enrollment in a particular tribe. The United States government recognizes 566 American Indian and Alaskan Native tribes.Here I need to write a bit about the terms "Indian," "American Indian," and "Native American." The issue of which of these terms, if any, is politically correct is an ongoing and unsettled issue. Many websites, even those maintained by the tribes, use all three terms interchangeably, even though there are those who are not Native Americans who believe that it is more politically correct to use the term "Native American." From my own standpoint, my ancestors have been in America since 1620 and I am not sure how long we would have to be here to qualify as Native Americans. All three terms imply some sort of racial or ethnic uniformity among the tribes, which does not, in reality, exist. The terms also only seem to apply to those people living in the United States; Indians who live in Latin American countries are subject to their own cultural and ethnic classifications and our artificially imposed national boundaries do not reflect any real cultural or ethnic differences.As I mentioned above, membership in a tribe has been traditionally based on blood quantum laws. One convenient explanation of blood quantum laws can be found in a Wikipedia article entitled "Blood quantum laws." Here is a quote:

Blood quantum laws or Indian blood laws are those enacted in the United States and the former colonies to define qualification by ancestry as Native American, sometimes in relation to tribal membership. These laws were developed by Euro-Americans and thus did necessarily not reflect how Native Americans had traditionally identified themselves or members of their in-group, and thus ignored the Native American practices of absorbing other peoples by adoption, beginning with other Native Americans, and extending to children and young adults of European and African ancestry. Blood quantum laws also ignored tribal cultural continuity after tribes had absorbed such adoptees and multiracial children.

Here is a further explanation from the same article:

A person's blood quantum (aka BQ) is defined as the percentage 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. Since re-establishing self-government and asserting sovereignty, some tribes may use blood quantum as part of their requirements for membership or enrollment, often in combination with other criteria. For instance, the Omaha Nation requires a blood quantum of 1/4 Native American and descent from a registered ancestor for enrollment.

Now, from a genealogical perspective, you can see why people might be interested in making a genealogical connection to an American Indian ancestor. These connections became more interesting as the tribes began to create income from casinos and related commercial activities.