Today, about 70% of the federally recognized Native nations that share geography with the United States use blood quantum as a metric for citizenship. Native nations’ sovereignty allows them to define their own citizenship criteria; some nations currently using blood quantum are in the process of considering possible alternatives.
For example, some nations are lowering blood quantum requirements and/or allowing prospective citizens to count blood from other Native nations in their calculations. Others are eliminating blood quantum requirements entirely and using lineal descent (or sometimes, more specifically, patrilineal or matrilineal descent) to define membership. Finally, some nations are incorporating knowledge of language, culture, and traditions into their citizenship requirements. Creative discussions are happening across Indian Country on ways to incorporate traditional ideas about reciprocity and kinship into membership.
To address concerns about scarce resources, those exploring alternatives to blood quantum are also emphasizing the importance of differentiating between citizenship and qualification for benefits. Dr. Jill Doerfler notes, “We’re careful to try to help people see that citizenship is one thing, and services and entitlements, while connected to citizenship, are different. The programs that most nations run have a host of requirements–they might be living within a certain boundary or having a certain income or age requirement, for example.”
Continued use of blood quantum requirements has major implications for Tribal sovereignty. Dr. Elizabeth Rule explains, “There might be, down the line, a moment when folks are not going to be eligible for citizenship. In which case, what would happen, right? The Native nation would cease to exist. It’s very important that Native nations consider their power as sovereign nations and their ability to write their own laws and to self-govern.”