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Blood Quantum Laws or Indian Blood Laws is an umbrella term that describes legislation enacted to define membership in Native American groups. "Blood quantum" refers to attempts to calculate the degree of racial inheritance for a given individual. Its use started in 1705 when Virginia adopted laws which made both a person of American race and a person of half-American race ( a "half-blood" in other words) as legally inferior persons. Blood Quantum was not dominantly used until the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 when the government started using it to document whom it considered Native American.

Origin of Blood Quantum Law

The blood quantum law or "Indian Blood law" was a racially motivated law, created by European Americans. The law was created during the 18th century, specifically 1705, in Virginia. Many Native American tribes did not adopt the use of blood quantum law until the government introduced the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Some tribes, such as the Navajo Nation, did not accept the constitution of that law until the 1950s. The blood quantum laws have greatly reduced the numbers of many Native American tribes, and some tribes are reducing requirements to help increase the native population and in revolt against the racially motivated laws.

Problems caused by Blood Quantum Laws

Many Native People have become used to the idea of "blood quantum". The blood quantum laws have caused many problems in Native American families, where they have full or partial descent. In some cases there have been family members or entire families that have been excluded from being enrolled in their tribe even when they have no non-Native American ancestors. Several tribes, such as the Lumbee and the Seminole had conflicts with the federal government because they had many members mixed with African American. The conflicts were racially motivated as a person with African American and Native American admixture was considered unpure and classified solely as African American despite their heritage. Even a person with European American and Native American admixture was considered unpure by Caucasian standards. Furthermore, in the censuses in the 1930s and the 1940s, many people of African American and Native American descent who were either biracial or multiracial were largely classified as black. The result of the racial classification based on the one drop rule has negatively effected many individuals with African American and Native American descent because they are unable to prove residence on a reservation nor prove that they meet the required ancestry needed to be enrolled. Slavery was also one of the many ways that Native Americans and African Americans intermarried because they were enslaved at the same time and shared a common experience of enslavement.

Children adopted into non-Native families are unable to be federally recognized even when they have a biological parent who is enrolled in a tribe. In addition, census rolls taken for tribes such as the Cherokee were incomplete and due to intermarriage, immigration, treaties, or because they were not living within the boundaries of the nation, they would not be recorded on their tribe's rolls. Blood quantum laws also help create racism among tribal members and was used as reasoning by a few members of the five civilized tribes to practice slavery as the majority of slave owners were mixed with European ancestry and some believed they were of higher hierarchy over full bloods or those mixed with African American.

Problems with Genetics

Many researchers have published articles that caution that genetic ancestry DNA testing has limitations and should not be depended on by individuals to answer all their questions about heritage. An example would be the work geneticists did for a PBS series on African Americans called African American Lives, it explained that while most African Americans are racially mixed, they found African-Native American admixture relatively rare. However, the Y-chromosome and mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) testing processes for direct line male and female ancestors can fail to pick up many ancestors' heritage. Some critics thought the PBS series did not sufficiently explain the limitations of DNA testing for assessment of heritage. In addition, genetic markers may appear in other populations and testing cannot distinguish among separate Native American tribes.


Many Native American tribes continue to employ blood quantum in their own current tribal laws to determine who is eligible for membership or citizenship in the tribe or Native American nation. These often require a minimum degree of blood relationship and often an ancestor listed in a specific tribal census from the late 1800s or early 1900s. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolinamarker, for example, require an ancestor listed in the 1924 Baker census and a minimum of 1/16 Cherokee blood inherited from their ancestor(s) on that roll. Meanwhile the Western Cherokee require applicants to descend from an ancestor in the 1906 Dawes roll (direct lineal ancestry), but impose no minimum blood quantum requirement. The Ute require a 5/8 blood quantum, the highest requirement of any U.S. tribe, while the Miccosukee of Floridamarker, the Mississippimarker Choctaw and the St. Croix Chippewa of Wisconsinmarker all require 1/2 "tribal blood quantum." At the other end of the scale, the Mashantucket Pequot of Connecticutmarker and the Sac and Fox of Oklahomamarker both require 1/16, whereas the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon require a combined minimum of 1/16 from any of a list of several Oregonmarker indigenous peoples. The Navajo Nation requires a 1/4 blood quantum.

Some tribes require an unspecified amount of Indian ancestry (known as "lineal descendancy"), while others yet require a specified degree of Indian ancestry but an unspecified share of ancestry from the ancestral tribe or tribes from which the modern tribal entity is derived. Certain modern tribes are actually composed of confederations of original tribal peoples joined into a single modern ethno-political entity. There are also tribes that require a minimum blood degree only for tribal members born "off" (i.e. outside) the nominal reservation, comparable to the legal principles of Jus soli and Jus sanguinis in the nationality laws of modern sovereign states. By far the most common blood quantum requirement among modern American Indian tribes today is either 1/4 blood requirement or lineal descendancy.

The following tribes require 1/2 degree blood quantum for membership

The following tribes require 1/4 degree blood quantum for membership

The following tribes require 1/8 degree blood quantum for membership

The following tribes require 1/16 degree blood quantum for membership

See also


  1. Charles Hudson, The Southeastern Indians, 1976, pg. 479

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