Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Blood quantum, delisting Indians, and the Indian casino boom

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran this piece on the trend among American Indian tribes to de-list members based on insufficient Indian blood, if you will. The tribes' motivation seems to be thinning their numbers so that fewer will share in some tribes' newfound wealth, mostly from gaming enterprises. This trend is especially prevalent in California, which has many small tribes, most of which were "decimated, scattered and reconstituted, often out of ethnically mixed Indians." Here's an excerpt from that story, dateline Coarsegold, California, a Census Designated Place in Madera County.
At least 2,500 Indians have been disenrolled by at least two dozen California tribes in the past decade, according to estimates by Indian advocates and academics. In almost all of those cases, tribal governments--exercising authority recognized by the federal government--have determined that the ousted Indians did not have the proper ancestry.
A great deal is at stake for these Indians--now former Indians/tribe members in many cases--because tribes provide many benefits to members: college tuition, housing, tribal schools and--more recently--a share of casino profits. The 58-year-old woman featured in the Times story, Nancy Dondero, had been a member of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians her entire life--until, that is, she was recently disenrolled, along with 50 of her relatives. Now, Dondero's daughter has pulled out of a master's degree program because she cannot afford it without her tribe's assistance.

This op-ed in today's Times comments on the trend and situates it in historical legal perspective. The op-ed is by David Treuer, an Ojibwe member, who notes the irony that many Indian tribes use "a system of blood membership that was imposed upon us in violation of our sovereignty," and he recounts the ways in which the U.S. government used blood quantum laws during the 19th and into the 20th Century to deprive Indians of land and other Indian entitlements. Treuer asserts that blood quantum laws served the interest of the federal government because they permitted the government to circumvent restrictions on, for example, Indians selling tribal lands. That is, if the land owner was deemed not to be an Indian, the restriction on selling was relaxed, making it easier to get the land into the hands of whites.

Treuer asserts, "Blood quantum laws have always been about 'the stuff,' and they have always been about exclusion." These days, the "stuff" is more valuable than it's been in awhile, thanks to Indian gaming profits.

1 comment:

Patricija said...

The mentioned the economic negative effects that accompany delisting such as college tuition, housing, tribal schools and a share of casino profits. These are of course devastating; they must be further exacerbated by the effect of the social effects. For example, Nancy Dondero has considered herself a member of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians her entire life. The act of delisting must have put a strain on a lot of her personal relationship. People she considered once her friends and her ethnic family, chose money over recognizing her. The reliance that people such as Dondero and their children have had on their identity within these tribes puts them in a significant disadvantage when this rug is pulled out from under them. Further, those who live in rural areas that are delisted may lose the social networks that individuals living in rural communities need to thrive. The one that comes to mind the most is childcare, which in rural areas is comprised of a tradeoff system, a patchwork quilt of friends and family.