Tag Archives: blood quantum

I Am Native American (no matter the blood quantum)

20 Apr

I will share with you an essay I wrote and used (after updating and tweaking, of course) for various different things.  It proves a point that heritage, has little to do with blood quantum (percent) and a lot to do with family traditions, how and where you were raised, the community you choose to belong to, and the customs you honor.

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Asking a Native American “what percent Indian” they are is ignorant and limiting.  And it has everything to do with government funding.  The government had to cede (stolen) land to tribal members and make monetary payments in many cases, so frankly, it was in their best interest to make the bar for being considered Native American pretty high.  Thus, it limits the land lost to America and the ability of descendants to get their rightful land or funds.

It’s the same motivation, opposite direction for African Americans.  The government wanted that slave labor, so it was in their best interest to keep the bar for being considered black very low.  That way even descendants generations out had to work for free and had no rights to property.  Thus, the “one drop” definition of being black.

Both ends of the spectrum are historically rigid, and super-detrimental!  So that is why my mom is considered a tribal member, but I am not.  And why Elizabeth Warren’s claim to Native American heritage is legitimate, even though it’s a small percentage of her blood. Though, don’t get me wrong, I am not cool with having nothing to do with a culture, but then appropriating it for personal gain.  But people with that family history and who appreciate and honor their traditional culture, should be able to claim it–no matter the blood amount.

So without further adieu:

 I was born on The Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. My great-grandfather lived in a tepee before religious missionaries put him in a boarding school where he was not allowed to speak his native language of Salish or dress in his buck-skins. The missionaries were attempting to integrate the Native Americans into white society by stripping away their Indian heritage. Despite this, our culture did not dissolve, as the stories of my ancestors were passed to me. I own authentic moccasins from one of the tribal elders, have danced with pride in pow-wows, and make delectable Indian fry bread for Thanksgiving dinner.

My mother is a recognized Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribal member. In the 1960’s, the laws limited government help to Indians of a quarter blood quantum or more, so unfortunately, I was not able to be registered as a Tribal member of the Flathead Nation. I did experience the poverty common on the Flathead Reservation during my early childhood, however. As a little girl, I thought it was normal to eat the reservation commodities, and I still have a taste for powdered milk. We also ate meat when my parents were able to shoot a deer or catch some trout from the creek. I remember my cousins from town were not allowed to play with me, because I wore hand-me-downs.

My parents, wanting me to have more opportunity in life, started my college fund when I was a baby. My mother is the only member of the entire family who has obtained a college degree–my parents wanted me to be the second. I can see the pain in their eyes when my dad and mom tell stories of taking money out of my piggy-bank to afford basic necessities in Montana.

My Native American Heritage is something I cherish and embrace. I will be an asset to Washington State University because of the ethnic and socioeconomic factors that molded my perspectives. These will help me to display a sensitivity and tolerance toward others from all walks of life. I also bring a strong sense of pride in my work not only for myself, but my family and community.