Posted on July 28, 2021

Some Native Americans Fear Blood Quantum is Formula for ‘Paper Genocide’

Cecily Hilleary, Voice of America, July 24, 2021

Native Americans have survived centuries of imported diseases, dispossession of lands and forced assimilation. Today, many worry about another existential threat: Blood quantum—a system the U.S. government and many tribes use to measure Native ancestry and eligibility for membership.

Blood quantum (BQ) is based on a simple formula: Half of the combined degree of “Indian blood” an individual’s parents’ possess. So, if both parents have 100% Indian blood, their child will have a BQ of 100%.

But where bloodlines have been “diluted” by unions with non-Natives, calculating BQ can be complex, as evidenced by a chart published in the 1983 Bureau of Indian Affairs Manual, and percentages are usually expressed as fractions. For example, if a man with one-half BQ marries a woman with one-quarter BQ, their child will have a BQ of three-eighths.


In 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), touted as an effort to reduce government interference in tribal affairs. The new law, which recognized anyone with “one-half or more Indian blood,” urged federally recognized tribes to form representational governments, draft individual bylaws and constitutions, and decide membership criteria.

More than 260 tribes ended up accepting the IRA and set membership requirements. For some, it was lineal descent from individuals listed on historic “base rolls.” Others mandated BQ of one-quarter or more. A few decided on a combination of lineal descent, residency and/or BQ.


But some Native Americans who follow the issue closely say sticking with the BQ system for measuring ancestry is a recipe for disaster.

Jill Doerfler, head of the University of Michigan’s American Indian and Indigenous Studies Department, grew up in the White Earth Nation, one of six bands of Anishinaabe (also known as Chippewa) people united under the governing body of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT).

“What blood quantum does is racialize American Indian identity,” she said. {snip}

Increased urbanization and intermarriage with non-Natives mean bloodlines are diluting, and as time goes on, fewer and fewer individuals will qualify as tribe members {snip}


And then, she worries, the government could divest tribes of all their land, resulting in what some term “paper genocide.”


In 2012, MCT contracted with the Minnesota-based Wilder Foundation to study population trends for MCT as a whole, and its six member bands—White Earth, Mille Lacs, Grand Portage, Fond du Lac and Bois Forte—individually.

“The study showed that if we keep the current one-quarter MCT blood quantum requirement, we will see a pretty drastic decline by the end of the 21st century,” said Mike Chosa, public relations director at the Leech Lake Band.