Blood quantum myth


Regarding your "Blood Quantum" story, back before the first European contacts, marriage outside the tribe was the norm (HCN, 1/19/09). In my studies on biology and genetics, I learned that our Native elders did have extensive knowledge of biology, ecology, genetics, lethal recessives and the like. The only difference is that Western science quantifies, categorizes and classifies while Native science looks at the whole story. (The overused term is "holistic.")

In California, where I come from, marriages were made at Big Times, or between tribes or families, in order to keep bloodlines from becoming inbred. I've heard about other parts of the continent where ritual kidnapping ensured that marriages were made outside the community; other tribes have other ways of solving the biological problem of inbreeding. (Ever heard a Navajo explain his or her clan relationships?)

The myth of blood quantum is just that, a myth. Today, when a tribal member says he or she is a "fullblood," unless that person belongs to one of the really huge tribes like the Navajo, the extreme likelihood is that person has several tribes' worth of blood, and she or he is only a fullblood on paper -- the Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood, to be precise. In fact, the whole idea of blood quantum is an invention of the United States government that was meant to ensure that only tribal members were able to access the programs set aside for Indians (you know, inadequate health care, insufficient educational benefits and the like).

We as Indian people need to consult with our elders, look at how we used to decide who was a member, and develop policies that more closely reflect our traditional ways of counting who belongs. Instead of trying to figure out how much Indian DNA a person has, let's figure out ways to build and sustain economies within tribal communities that keep our young people at home, where they can still earn a living and be close to elders, spiritual people, the language and the land from which they were created.

Debra Utacia Krol
Phoenix, Arizona

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