Law | Opinion

Matthew Scraper: ICWA opponents wrong to cite blood quantum

Allie Greenleaf Maldonado speaks at a public meeting to address a new Indian Child Welfare Act regulation. Photo from National Indian Child Welfare Act Association / Facebook

Matthew Scraper, a member of the Cherokee Nation, questions opposition to a new Indian Child Welfare Act regulation proposed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs:
Scraper is a Cherokee name. More specifically, it is an English translation of the Cherokee word "di-su-ga-s-gi," which means, "he scrapes it" (Thanks David Cornsilk). I am registered as 1/16 Cherokee through the BIA, which makes me a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. This is because, like many Native people, I have a number of ancestors who (for whatever the reason) didn't register. In reality I am therefore actually at least 1/8, and possibly 3/8—depending on the blood quantum of a deceased ancestor, the questions about which will never be able to be answered.

The Cherokee Nation follows a method of enrollment known as "lineal descent." While some Nations require 1/32, 1/16, 1/8, or 1/4 blood quantum, combined with many other stringent rules about ancestors that must have been or must currently be enrolled members of the tribe, the Cherokee Nation (like many others) requires instead that we be descended from an original Dawes enrollee. The result of this policy provides for a strong future for our culture, as restrictions on tribal citizenship based upon blood quantum tend to have the unforeseen consequence of potentially endangering a tribe's existence.

Herein begins my rant, which represents nothing more than my own opinion...that being that blood quantum does not define one's cultural identity. I recently heard someone mention, with surprise, that a Native person with 1/4 blood quantum claimed their native heritage. As a citizen of a tribal nation, you are not 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, 1/64, etc... a citizen of that nation, no more or less than you can be 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/32, 1/64, etc... a citizen of the United States of America. I, and other Native people like me (mixed-race or not) are citizens of the tribal nations in which we are enrolled because we were born into those nations, just as many are citizens of the United States because we are born into the United States of America (I fully recognize and support that citizenship in the US is available via additional means). One is not barred from claiming American culture because they are not an American "full-blood," just as one is not barred from claiming the heritage and culture of one's family because members of that family line represent additional races and/or cultures.

Get the Story:
Matthew Scraper: In Response to War of the Words: ICWA Hearings Reignite Ancient Battle Over Indian Children (Indian Country Today 5/23)

Also Today:
War of Words: ICWA Hearings Reignite Ancient Clash Over Indian Children, Part 1 (Indian Country Today 5/21)

Federal Register Notices:
Regulations for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings (March 30, 2015)
Guidelines for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings (February 25, 2015)

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