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Self-termination policy proposed


Jack D. Forbes, Guest Columnist, University of California, Davis







Many Native people have gotten so used to the idea of "blood quantum" (degree of "blood") that sometimes the origin of this racist concept is forgotten. Its use started in 1705 when the colony of Virginia adopted a series of laws that denied civil rights to any "negro, mulatto, or Indian" and which defined the above terms by stating that "the child of an Indian, and the child, grandchild, or great grandchild of a negro shall be deemed accounted, held, and taken to be a mulatto." Thus both a person of American race and a person of half-American race (a "half-blood" in other words) were treated as legally inferior persons.

Colony after colony and state after state followed Virginia's example in using blood quantum as a way of determining who could have the privileges accorded to white persons. For example, Alabama's code stated that "all negroes, mulattoes, Indians and all persons of mixed blood, to the third generation inclusive, though one ancestor of each generation may have been a white person, whether bond or free; shall be taken, and deemed incapable in law, to be witnesses.... except for or against each other." North Carolina possessed a code that prohibited marriages between white persons and "an Indian, Negro, Mustee, or Mulatto.... or any person of Mixed Blood to the Third Generation." Such laws meant that a part-Indian of one-eighth American ancestry and seven-eighth European ancestry would not have acquired sufficient European "blood" to be accorded the legal privileges of whiteness.

The racist use of blood quantum continued without a break. In 1866 Virginia decreed that "Every person having one-fourth or more Negro blood shall be deemed a colored person, and every person not a colored person having one-fourth or more Indian blood shall be deemed an Indian."

In the 20th century Virginia broadened the term "colored" to include all Indians with any trace of African ancestry, if living off-reservation, and with more than 1/32 African ancestry, if living on either the Pamunkey or Mattaponi reservations.

The federal government began to also use "degree of blood" in the latter part of the 19th century, especially in relation to the enrollment of persons before the Dawes allotment commission. The use of "full," "one-half" etc. at that time was both an extension of the previous racist system and also a step in terminating Native Americans. Persons with greater amounts of white ancestry were assumed to be more competent than persons with lesser amounts. In other words, the degree of white blood was much more important than the degree of American ancestry. The white blood entitled an Indian citizen to greater privileges, including being able to have "wardship" restrictions removed, being able to sell property, acquire the right to vote in state and federal elections, and so on. Thus it may be that many persons chose to exaggerate their amount of white ancestry when enrolling. Persons without white ancestry were restricted persons, with the Bureau controlling their financial lives. It was also expected that when a person became "competent" (white enough) he would no longer be an Indian and that process would eventually terminate a tribe's existence.

Thus the recording of blood quantum is both a product of white racism and of white social science theories of a racist nature, and also a product of a plan wherein Native nations are expected to vanish when the white blood quantum reaches a certain level (above three-fourths, for example).

Recently, Kevin Gover issued proposed changes in the way the BIA calculates and invalidates a Certificate of Degree of Indian or Alaska Native Blood (CDIB). The changes were developed by a very small group of Bureau employees and a few tribal representatives, all in eastern Oklahoma. The changes may seem insignificant to some Oklahoma tribes, however, they should have been carefully reviewed in Indian Country because of their perpetuation of the racist blood quantum ideology, ther ignoring of ratified treaties with tribes, and because of the role that they will play in Indians terminating themselves.

First, Indian ancestry is to be computed only from so-called federally-recognized tribes (in spite of the ambiguous status of some tribes at this time). The changes specifically limit "Indian blood" to ancestry from a federally-recognized tribe and define the latter as one listed in the federal register as a tribe recognized by the Secretary of the Interior. This means that one's degree of Indian blood cannot include American Indian or Eskimo-Inuit ancestry derived from a terminated tribe, from an administratively-deleted tribe, from a Canadian, Greenlandic, Mexican or other non-US group, or from any state-recognized tribe (as along the East Coast), or perhaps from any newly-recognized tribe. Thus a person who is one half Inuit from Alaska and one-half Inuit from Canada or Greenland can only be counted as one-half.

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. This is a form of self-termination.