Commentary: Race, blood and Native Americans
"It was Europeans who decided that all Indians, whatever their tribes, were members of the same race. A hundred years ago, Indian populations had dwindled so disastrously that Native Americans were deemed a “vanishing race.” The survey in 1935 counted only a few hundred thousand.

But, beginning in 1960, when people could identify themselves on the census, a remarkable thing happened. The population of Native Americans grew by 50 percent in 1970, by 70 percent in 1980, by another 70 percent in 1990, and then it almost doubled in 2000, to more than 4 million.

That would seem to be an official record. However, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) recognizes only 1.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives — fewer than half the number counted on the census.

That is because the BIA uses a different system for classifying Native Americans than does its sister agency, the U.S. Census Bureau. Part of the BIA's system, which traces back to the administration of President Grant, relies on the old interlaced concepts of race and blood.

The BIA goes so far as to issue cards to Native Americans it considers legit — cards that officially designate their “Certified Degree of Indian Blood.” It was because of the agency's use of C.D.I.B. cards that the terms “full-blooded Indian” and “half-breed” entered our racial vocabulary. In Grant's day, they were considered scientific."

Get the Story:
Mara Leveritt: Blood cards (The Arkansas Times 12/10)