The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was the US government’s attempt to define who “Indians” were. Among the criteria the act set was a blood quantum, which declared that “Indians” were "all other persons of one-half or more Indian blood". Today, many tribes wrestle with the legacy of blood quantum and “Indian” identity, as they work to manage tribal enrollment and social services. As the bloodlines grow increasingly diluted, within a few generation, recognized tribes might legally disappear.
Through essays, personal stories, case studies, satire, and poetry, The Great Vanishing Act brings together writers from around the world to explore the biological and cultural metaphor of blood quantum, the most critical issue facing Indigenous populations in the twenty-first century.
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About the Author
Norbert S. Hill is an enrolled citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and has recently retired as Area Director of Education and Training for the Nation. Hill’s previous appointment was Vice President of the College of Menominee Nation for their Green Bay campus. Hill served as the executive director of the American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC) in New Mexico, a nonprofit organization providing funding for American Indians and Alaska Natives to pursue graduate and professional degrees. Previous positions include: the executive director of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, assistant dean of students at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and director of the American Indian Educational Opportunity Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He founded Winds of Change and The American Indian Graduate, magazine, publications of AISES and AIGC respectively. Hill holds two honorary doctorates from Clarkson University (1996) and Cumberland College (1994). He resides on the Oneida reservation with his wife.
Kathleen Ratteree has worked with the Oneida Nation Trust and Enrollment Committee since 2013. She has served as Project Manager for Sustain Oneida, a group that facilitates constructive community dialogue on tribal enrollment criteria. Over the past three years she has written a series of articles for the Oneida tribal newspaper, The Kalihwisaks, on identity, citizenship, blood quantum, demographics, sovereignty, and tribal governance. The articles have helped raise awareness of enrollment issues and population trends. They have also encouraged community engagement in the issues of membership/citizenship. Kathleen holds a Master of Science in medical anthropology, a Master of Public Health and a certificate of Global Health from the University of Madison-Wisconsin. Kathleen lives near Green Bay, WI with her husband, two young children, a 100-pound dog, twelve chickens, and various wildlife.
Read an Excerpt
Love in the Time of Blood Quantum
by Adrienne Keene
"Every Native born into this world is a victory against colonialism and attempted genocide. You are the resistance. You are hope made flesh."
— Ruth Hopkins Dakota/Lakota
Last year, I sat in the back of a lecture hall filled with Native students attending Ivy League institutions. We were gathered together for the annual All Ivy Native summit, where American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students from each of the eight Ivy League schools (plus a handful of other local/elite schools) gather to socialize, commiserate, and discuss important issues in Indian Country. In this session, students were engaged in an activity comparing "Western success" to "Native success." As a PowerPoint slide reading "Western success" showed on a bright screen, students yelled out terms like "money!" "a good job!" "power!" "individual success!", and a student facilitator transcribed onto the chalkboard. As we transitioned to Native success, the tone shifted. "Taking care of family!" "Community connection!" "Giving back!" There were slight murmurs of agreement with each. "Marrying someone from your tribe!" The crowd erupted in laughter, but also claps, snaps, and sounds of agreement. "Having Indian babies!", and the noise grew louder, until the facilitator called the group back to order.
At the time, I laughed and whistled along with the crowd, and only later did I reflect on the moment and wonder what it meant that a group of highly successful, highly educated young Natives — in many ways poised to be the next leaders of Indian Country — reacted most strongly to "Native success" being defined as marrying a Native person and having Native babies.
In the 1700s when the colonizers introduced the concept of blood quantum, they could have never imagined a world of OK Cupid, Tinder, Native peoples with Ivy League PhDs, or tribal communities with multibillion dollar casinos. What does it mean to take a hundreds-year-old colonial concept and apply it to love and dating in the 21st century?
As a single 30-year-old Native woman, these conversations abound in my everyday life. In many ways, I have invited and welcomed these conversations through a series of posts on my blog, Native Appropriations, entitled "Love in the Time of Blood Quantum." In these posts I laid out my own complicated feelings of dating-while-Native. The comments and conversations that ensued after my posts were sometimes hard to hear for their pain and heartbreak, but I am immensely grateful for the ways they affirmed, but also challenged and pushed my own thinking.
In this chapter I hope to just brush the surface of exploring the concepts of dating, love, and blood quantum through my own experiences and the blog. This is not meant to be an exhaustive conversation, nor is it meant to be representative of every facet of Indian Country. I can only speak from my experiences as a heterosexual, cis-gendered, light-skinned, suburban/urban mixed Cherokee, as well as share the voices and stories that others have graciously shared with me.
In 2011, I wrote the first "Love in the Time of Blood Quantum" post that attempted to lay out some of the quandaries I faced in my desires to date Native men. Reading it now, much of it makes me cringe. However, I feel that the comments are some of the best on any post on the blog, and I am appreciative of the way they made me question my assumptions and privilege, and really forwarded my thinking. These two paragraphs sum up the bulk of my argument from that piece:
So, I say all this as a Native woman in her mid-20's, who is thinking about (at some point) settling down, having a family, raising kids, etc. I think about these issues constantly. I am lucky that my children will be able to enroll in the Cherokee Nation no matter what, since we don't use blood quantum for membership, but I worry about how they will be perceived if they want to be involved in Native community activities if they are even more mixed than me. I get crap constantly for the way I look and not being "Native enough" — even when the work I do is completely for Native communities and all about giving back. I think I've cried more tears in graduate school over identity politics than anything else, and I can't bear the thought of my future (albeit fictional at this point) children dealing with that pain. I know they will be culturally connected no matter what, but what does that mean for my future mate?
I would absolutely love to end up with a Native man. But you need to find me one first. My friends and I joke that educated, motivated Native men are like unicorns ... magical, mystical creatures that you've heard of, and special enough that if someone gets one, they're holding on and not letting go. This is not to seem like I'm hating on the Native men of the world. I just don't come into contact with them that often in my whitewashed East Coast world. The draw of a Native guy is simple: I don't want to have to explain everything all the time. I want someone who "gets it." I want to make cultural references and jokes, I want someone who understands what it feels like to be invisible, marginalized, and silenced, I want someone who supports my activism and social justice work. Can I find that in a non-Native guy? Yes, and I have. Though they tend to be other people of color.
Reading this now, years later, makes me embarrassed (so young and naïve!), but time and maturity gave me space for reflection and growth. In the second iteration of the post ("Revisiting Love in the Time of Blood Quantum") in 2013, I laid out two of my largest oversights and ways my thinking matured.
First, the original piece was incredibly heteronormative. I never meant to generalize to all Native experiences with the post, but I realized that not even mentioning my blinding hetero/cis privilege in all of this was hurtful and harmful. In subsequent conversations with some of my queer Native friends, I listened to their stories, and realized that their experiences are in many ways similar, but are further complicated by a panoply of struggles that I can't even begin to imagine. By way of example, a reader shared her thoughts on how as a queer 20-year-old woman, she is already forced to think about her future children:
I'm only 20 years old, in my 3rd year of undergrad, and am already having anxiety about whether or not my future children will be "Native." My tribe has a 1/4th blood requirement and the only way my children would be enrolled is if my sperm donor (if that is the path my future partner and I decide to take) was at least a quarter Ojibwe. Now queer people trying to start families is already complicated enough with strict adoption requirements, not to mention the huge costs of sperm donor and similar avenues. Throw Native and blood requirement on top of that, I am prematurely freaking out about my future family.
And the biggest stress for me is not that my children won't be enrolled (because they will be Anishinaabe no matter what), but that my parents and my family will not recognize my children as their grandchildren, because I am queer and I may or may not be the birth mother of my children. As Native people, we all know how important family is, and not just immediate family but aunties, cousins, uncles, grandparents, and so on. I'm worried about how my children will learn about their culture and where they come from if my entire family doesn't claim them or me and my future partner. The queer Native struggle is real y'all.
Current hetero-patriarchal gender constructions in our communities are another result of colonialism, and LGBT relationships add layers of complication, since they don't fit the western established "norm" for nuclear families. The experiences of LGBT Natives deserve and warrant further discussion, and I hope that we can create spaces for those conversations.
The next way my thinking has, shall we say, matured since the first post: the term "Unicorn." I have come to deeply regret putting that out in the universe and letting it be absorbed into the Native lexicon. It completely reflected my experiences at the time — I put Native men on a pedestal like they deserved all our reverence and solemn respect. Admired for their rarity, like an endangered species at the zoo. And it has continued to haunt me. I've met women when I'm "on the road" who have introduced their partners to me as "this is my unicorn ________." A friend called a fancy dress she wore at a conference her "unicorn slayer" dress. Another friend referred to a beau as "Dr. Unicorn." When I started dating a particular guy a couple years back, I got a text from a friend excitedly proclaiming, "AK, you found your unicorn!" I had even started using it with a qualifier to describe any man of color I was dating. "He's a Black unicorn!"
I now think this is a problem. One that was pointed out in the comments of the first post, and something I dismissed at the time. Exalting Native men like they're the be-all-end-all discounts the rarity and specialness of educated, motivated Native women. I've started to feel that it creates a situation where Native men know they're special and rare, and don't treat Native women with the respect they deserve — because there's always another eager, intelligent Native woman when you're through with that one. Or maybe that's just been my experience?
Here is the original comment, so you don't have to take my word for it:
But, no matter where I look, in what circles I move, I have been, without exception, disappointed in the Indian men I've met and dated. In my experience, they know we think of them like magical unicorns and they take full advantage of that fact. I can't name even one faithful, monogamous indian man in my history. And I wonder about their perspective: Indian women are just as rare. Why aren't they looking just as hard for me? Is that some sort of inherent difference between men and women, or do our societies teach indian men to value indian women differently? What gives?
Disclaimer: I know lots of great Native men. Lots of respectful, kind, wonderful Native men. I see many positive examples of Native relationships in my life, in my family, and in my close friends. I encounter them often. I want to make generalizations in order to talk about something that I think many of us see, but don't always acknowledge. I am not saying every Native man is disrespectful or a philanderer.
The other piece I've watched in myself and my friends is turning Indian men into a series of checkboxes, seeing how many "requirements" they fulfill, and leaving themselves in unhappy, unfulfilling, or even dangerous relationships because their man clicks so many of the boxes. Again, I'll return to the comments from the first post, this one from my classmate in undergrad. "M" is one of our mutual friends:
I wonder how many babies are born in situations where BQ was the agenda, rather than love ...
I also wonder how many native women feel like they can't leave a bad situation because it feels like a betrayal of their tribe ... or their partners make it appear that way?
I like what M. posts from time to time from Toni Morrison, because it reminds me of all this ...
"Love is or it ain't. Thin love ain't love at all."
I am thinking love by fractions can be pretty thin love ..."
Love by fractions is pretty thin love. I think that's the biggest way my thinking has changed. In my original post I was so focused on the appeals of a Native partner that I forgot about the most important thing of all — this is supposed to be about love. I don't want to just date so I can have an Indian baby, I want to fall in love. I want to find someone who loves all of me — the Indian parts and the non-Indian parts. My highly critical lens on the world, my passion for my community, my height, my light eyes, my light skin, my "low blood quantum" — I want someone who loves all of that. If you look back at my original post, all I really said is I wanted someone who "gets it." Someone who can laugh at inside Indian jokes, feel comfortable in and around Native communities, who understands oppression and marginalization, and supports social justice. Who said that person has to be Native? (I know, I did. That was me.)
For me, many of my checkboxes stemmed from my own deep insecurities about my identity, something that is readily apparent in the original post. I worried that my children wouldn't "pass" as Indian if they were more mixed than me, and I worried that they wouldn't be accepted in Native circles if they were a low-blood-quantum Cherokee. Those fears are still real, but I also have come to realize that I was also afraid that I wasn't "Indian enough" to be the sole carrier of culture in my future-fictional-family, that I didn't know enough about being Cherokee, about traditional culture, language, whatever, to pass it along to my children. I wanted someone who knew more than me who could take on that role. I now see how shortsighted that was, because in the subsequent years I've also come more and more to value the culture of my own Cherokee community, and I know no matter what, I want my kids to be not just Indian, but Cherokee. Unless I end up with a Cherokee partner, that's all on me no matter what — and I am completely capable of handling that on my own.
I often have long conversations about these very issues with friends, and they have made me realize that I am actually in a privileged position. Being a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, we don't have a blood quantum requirement for tribal citizenship. So no matter how things shake out, as long as my child comes out of me (that's a whole other issue), he or she can be enrolled Cherokee. We also are matrilineal, so my kids will have a clan too.
But for some of my friends from other communities, their tribes do have blood quantum requirements. For some of them who are already mixed, either with other tribes or other races, if they don't have kids with someone from their community, their offspring won't be able to be enrolled. When your tribe has less than 1,000 members, that becomes an issue — the pool is quite small. There are also issues brought by casinos, and money has brought a whole new level of complication to the issue of relationships and children — only enrolled children have access to tribal resources. So even while my friends can espouse about how blood isn't what makes you Indian, about community connection, culture, and family being more important — they're still stuck in a situation where their values aren't matched by others in the community, and it has real implications for them and their children. Another commenter (and a close friend) tied it up succinctly:
Becoming (or creating) a citizen of a tribal nation is a way of protecting our sovereignty and passing on our culture. Do we have a duty to make more Indians? Do we have to do it with other Indians? What defines an Indian and who decides?
Colonialism leaves quite a legacy, doesn't it? That to me is the saddest and most frustrating part of all this. Notions of "blood fractions" are colonial constructions, designed to "breed out" Indians, and now they are being used by our own communities to further restrict not only the futures of our tribes, but our right to love. So is reclaiming your right to love whomever you want an act of decolonization? Or is it weakening modern tribal sovereignty? I'm still not sure.
A new development and complication that I can't imagine any of our ancestors could have pictured is the addition of scientific technology and language of genetics to the creation of Native children. In honor of turning 30 I started a new savings account — for freezing my eggs. I'm not the first of my Native friends to think about or undertake preemptive egg preservation, and in many ways I still can't wrap my head around the fact that this is something I'm considering and feel is necessary. That we as Native women are willing to undergo what is by no means a simple, inexpensive, or easy procedure to ensure the future progeny points to how deeply the desires, and perhaps sense of responsibility run.
Excerpted from "The Great Vanishing Act: Blood Quantum and the Future of Native Nations"
Copyright © 2017 Kathleen Ratteree and Norbert Hill.
Excerpted by permission of Fulcrum Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Dr. Henrietta Mann ix
Preface Kathleen Ratteree Norbert Hill xiii
Part 1 Cultural Metaphor
Love in the Time of Blood Quantum Adrienne Keene 3
It's in the Blood, and in the Earth - Haudenosaunee Descent and Identity Richard Hill 14
Good Guidance Leslie Logan 24
Walking in Two Worlds: The Native American College Experience Olivia Hoeft 33
Trickster Teaches the Prairie Dogs How to Disenroll Their Members Robert Chanate 39
Fraction of Love Reed Bobroff 43
Part 2 Decolonizing History
Vampire Policy Is Bleeding Us Dry - Blood Quantums, Be Gone! Suzan Shown Harjo 77
Bleeding Out: Histories and Legacies of "Indian Blood" Doug Kiel 80
Decolonizing Colonial Constructions of Indigenous Identity: A Conversation between Debra Harry and Leonie Pihama Debra Harry Leonie Pihama 98
Race and Sovereignty Julia Coates 111
Part 3 Decolonizing Biology and Demography
Twentieth Century Tribal Blood Politics: Policy, Place, and Descent Kim TallBear 129
Who Counts? Indians and the U.S. Census Russell Thornton 142
NDN DNA Jessica Kolopenuk 159
(Re)Building the Lahui (Hawaiian Nation) Maile Taualii 173
Part 4 Policy, Law, and Nation Building
"Making Ourselves Whole with Words": A Short History of White Earth Anishinaabeg Tribal Citizenship Criteria Jill Doerfler 189
Blood Quantum: The Mathematics of Ethnocide David E. Wilkins Shelly Hulse Wilkins 210
What Can Tribal Child Welfare Policy Teach Us about Tribal Citizenship? Miriam Jorgensen Adrian T. Smith Terry Cross Sarah Kastelic 228
Blood Quantum: Fractionated Land, Fractionated People Richard Monette 246
Reconsidering Blood Quantum Criteria for the Expansion of Tribal Jurisdiction Rebecca M. Webster 260
Blood, Identity, and the Ainu Society in Contemporary Japan Yuka Mizutani 271
Part 5 Where to Go from Here? Moving Forward
From Tribal Members to Native Nation Citizens Stephen Cornell Joseph P. Kalt 289
We Chose This, Now What? What Comes after Blood Quantum? Gyasi Ross 305
Applying Indigenous Values to Contemporary Tribal Citizenship: Challenge and Opportunity LaDonna Harris Kathryn Harris Tijerina Laura Harris 316
Contributor Biographies 333