Love in the Time of Blood Quantum

In blood quantum, dating, intermarriage, multi-racial by Adrienne K.41 Comments

I’m fully aware of the fact that if it weren’t for intermarriage between Natives and non-Natives, I wouldn’t exist. I’m proud of all of my heritages, and proud that I can be unique in my Cherokee/Armenian/Irish/Welsh/German-ness (though, apparently Cher is Cherokee/White/Armenian, so maybe not so unique). I love that my family traditions and holidays are imbued with Armenian food and traditions, but that I can go to stomp dances in Oklahoma and feel equally connected. But when I think about my future, and my future children, the whole thing gets complicated.

I’ve written before about blood quantum, and some of the issues surrounding tribal membership and identifying as Native. I also allude, often, to my own identity struggles of being really mixed and coming from a suburban environment. Recently, since the 2010 Census data has started to trickle out, there has been some discussion about the interracial marriage rates among various ethnic groups. The NYtimes has a chart that shows Native have the highest rate of intermarriage, and they also recently published an article that quoted statistics showing Natives as most likely to identify as more than one race.

Debbie Reese over at American Indians in Children’s Literature looked more closely at the idea of a “multi-racial” identity presented in the Times article. She says that when people identify as simply “multi-racial” and claim that individual races don’t matter, they obscure what it really means to be an American Indian in today’s society. She says:

The students interviewed for that Times article mean no harm when they say their Indian identity doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter—to them. But it does to me, and it does to Native Nations. The students’ well-meaning embrace of a mixed identity, in effect, obscures a lot, and in that obscurity, it does do harm. It contributes to the lack of understanding of who American Indians are…  And it takes the US down a merry melting pod road where we all hold hands and smile in ignorance.

In addition to Professor Reese’s breakdown of the issue, NPR had a segment on intermarriage in Native communities, and they bring in the blood quantum issue. The piece focuses on a woman from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and her fiance, a Mexican-American. In her community, members must possess 1/4 blood quantum for tribal enrollment, and while her children would make the cut, if they then choose to marry non-Indians, their children (her grandchildren) would no longer be tribal members.

NPR kinda misses the point, and focuses on “benefits” her children could miss out on (the article is called “Native American Intermarriage Puts Benefits at Risk”). They quote a professor of American Indian law who says:

“This becomes significant because it can affect child custody cases, access to free health care, education and land ownership. For many tribes, continuing high rates of intermarriage could become a huge issue in the future, since to remain as fully functioning nations, with governments, they need to have a population.”

Of course, there are MANY issues with this quote, and the article does point out that some tribes don’t have a blood quantum requirement for enrollment, but the bottom line is they make it seem like tribal membership is about having “benefits” from the federal government, not about culture, community, or anything else. The article also doesn’t really problematize the notion of blood quantum at all, it’s just taken as a given.

So, I say all this as a Native woman in her mid-20’s, who is thinking about (at some point) settling down, having a family, raising kids, etc. I think about these issues constantly. I am lucky that my children will be able to enroll in the Cherokee Nation no matter what, since we don’t use blood quantum for membership, but I worry about how they will be perceived if they want to be involved in Native community activities if they are even more mixed than me. I get crap constantly for the way I look and not being “Native enough”–even when the work I do is completely for Native communities and all about giving back. I think I’ve cried more tears in graduate school over identity politics than anything else, and I can’t bear the thought of my future (albeit fictional at this point) children dealing with that pain. I know they will be culturally connected no matter what, but what does that mean for my future mate?

I joke that I look at potential partners as a series of punnett squares, those genetic calculator grids you used in high school biology to determine whether your fruit flies would have messed up wings or something. But I wonder if my light eyes would be dominant or recessive, if my light skin would make it through the maze of alleles to end up on my child. I realize it’s sad, but I just want my kids to be able to be ethnically ambiguous enough to “pass” as Native. Is this internalized colonialism and bowing to stereotypes and misconceptions about Natives? Maybe. But it’s reality.

I would absolutely love to end up with a Native man. But you need to find me one first. My friends and I joke that educated, motivated Native men are like unicorns…magical, mystical creatures that you’ve heard of, and special enough that if someone gets one, they’re holding on and not letting go. This is not to seem like I’m hating on the Native men of the world. I just don’t come into contact with them that often in my whitewashed East Coast world. The draw of a Native guy is simple: I don’t want to have to explain everything all the time. I want someone who “gets it.” I want to make cultural references and jokes, I want someone who understands what it feels like to be invisible, marginalized, and silenced, I want someone who supports my activism and social justice work. Can I find that in a non-Native guy? Yes, and I have. Though they tend to be other people of color.

These discussions also made me think of Lisa Charleyboy’s post about dating over at Urban Native Girl Stuff. She breaks down the types of non-Native guys she’s encountered into three categories:

1) “Inattentive Skeptics” who are uninformed about Natives
2) “Cultural Romantics” who appreciate native art and culture, but are unlikely to know any actual aboriginals (usually found in Toronto)
3) “Connected Advocates,” on the other hand, are most likely to support the achievements of Aboriginals, and to understand the role discrimination plays

I think those categories pretty much cover it all. Lisa says she’s had some success dating the “inattentive skeptics,” but personally I find it really, really tiring to constantly explain everything. My preference is definitely for the third category (duh). She also dealt with many of these same struggles I have, and decided to only date Native men for a period of time.

Add all of these layers of complication surrounding identity to the fact that I’m almost 5’10, in a PhD program at an elite institution, and am kinda loud and opinionated…I don’t date much. ha. This is not to be a woe-is-me-I’m-so-lonely-and-oppressed post, but more of a personal reflection to bring to light some of the issues that 500+ years of colonialism have added onto an already complicated world of dating and courtship. I know that my non-Native friends don’t have to think about blood percentage or tribal identification when they’re out at a bar scoping out attractive coeds, and sometimes I wish I didn’t have to either. But as Debbie Reese says in her post:

Identity matters for those of us who are raised Indian. We work very hard at maintaining our nationhood and our sovereignty, and, we work to protect the integrity of our traditions from being exploited by people who don’t understand them.

 I’m working my butt off here, and is it selfish that I don’t want it to be for nothing?

Feel free to disagree with me in the comments, and if you know of any attractive, tall, educated, single Native guys who want a date, let me know (I’m only half kidding…).

NYTimes: Who is Marrying Whom
NYTimes: Census Shows Rise in Number of Multiracial Children
American Indians in Children’s Literature: “Multiracial” Identity and American Indians
Urban Native Girl Stuff: I am Not Your Pocahontas
Urban Native Girl Stuff: Bloodlines
NPR: Native American Intermarriage Puts Benefits at Risk

  • I come from a mixed family (with a father who was horrified that his wife and kids still had an interest in their non-white ancestors and culture, because his culture was far superior).

    Dating a Native guy was out of the question – I went to college at an engineering school that had like 6 students willing to admit to being Native, four of us female.

    Having married a non-Native myself (one of those inattentive skeptics), I’m finding that it’s far more important for me to make sure my kids have a strong connection to our culture than who their father is. Community is far more important than it was to me before kids…important enough to seek out opportunities and make time to make them happen.

  • great post!
    I am mixed too and I definitely feel weird about giving so much weight to the ethnicity of my partners.
    up north, where my family is from, mixed blood is practically the norm. it makes it really confusing sometimes. when I am asked ”how native” I am I never really know how to answer.
    I am glad you posted about this

  • I am interested in a comment that you made in this blog about the Cherokee nation not basing membership on blood quantum. I have been told by my, now deceased, mother that her grandmother was Cherokee. I have always wanted to trace my ancestry but do not have enough info to get started. My greatgrandmother lived in the mountains of Virginia around Cumberland Gap. I have not been able to trace a Cherokee presence to that area. I do not want to become a tribal member because I would feel like a wannabe since I do not have any real knowledge of my Cherokee roots.

  • I have to admit, I’ve only recently started following this blog but I do appreciate the work you do here. =) That being said, I just recently been told that she’s got some cherokee blood in her from her father’s side. And, looking at my sister and dad and the line it came from, you can really see it. That is, until you see me, because me? I’m a blonde with green eyes. So yes. I do rather understand where you’re coming from, because when I mention that I’ve got some Native blood in me, the reactions are almost always “No you don’t! You’re not dark enough!”

  • And please forgive the typos. I apparently switched thought midway through a sentence up there. Sorry!

  • @ Michele – That’s exactly the same problem I’m having. I know we’ve got the blood in us, because you can see it so very clearly (in a generation back or so at least!) but I have no way of documenting who, exactly, it came from. I live in lower Alabama, though my family is from a very rural part in mid-Alabama. Up until my dad’s generation, there was not much documentation of who married who beyond what might be written in the family bible.

  • I have about the blood-quantum of an Oklahoma deer-tick, so I don’t know how valid my opinion is the subject. That said, I got married in my early twenties to a wonderful Jewish man. Our life experiences are completely different, but we make it works. It helps that he is from Oklahoma! 11 years later, we have 2 beautiful children. I love my kids, but honestly, I sometimes wish I had at least one that resembles the relatives I grew up with. My Mother, my Native parent, even commented that a male Delaware friend and I would, “have pretty babies.” It was more than a little awkward. lol

    As far as the Native community goes, some people accept me and some don’t. I can’t do anything about those who don’t,so I try not to worry about it. (Yes, a few have made me cry over the years.) However, I’ve never had a Native insult or ignore my children. Will my Jewish/Lithuanian/Ukrainian/German/Delaware children be accepted in the Native community as adults? I don’t know, but I hope so.

  • The elusive unicorn! So true. I’ve dated Native (within my tribe and out), Korean, Hispanic, and White. And no matter who I date, I am constantly teaching (but also learning). I’ve accepted that this is the way it is going to be for me. However, I’ve also decided that if I ever have a child, s/he will be born on my rez, so that a sense of connection to a place (and a place of ’emergence’) will hopefully matter more than blood quantum.

  • This column is exactly how I feel about being light-skinned Cherokee and the prospects of dating (except I’m a guy).

  • I married a non-native, and I am mixed blood myself so my children range from brown haired and freckle faced to my tanned skinned blondie. I have issues assuring people that all of the kids are mine let alone native. I feel your pain, but after being as happily married as I have been for the past 7 years, I realize now that choosing the correct partner and ignoring race was the best choice for myself and my kids. I’ll still teach my kids the things that my parents taught me and remind them of who I am, but in this area a tribal affiliation is hard to come by. Regardless, I hope that above all you find happiness. If you can do that, then you will still have the opportunity to teach your children nativeness. If your spouse can’t help with that, they can at least respect it.

  • Aza

    Hi Adrienne :)
    I’m the child of two Native people, one Modoc and the other Anishinaabe. Also we’re German and French (naturally, right?) and therefore I am of “mixed blood”. I identify as Turtle Mountain Anishinaabe (Or Ojibwe… or Chippewa if you must) Nation. My ancestries are not NOT mutually exclusive and I appreciate your point of view because I have cried a lot of the same tears (Hello, I am blonde!) and I’m tired of having to “prove how Indian I am”. I dance Jingle Dress and am trying to learn my language, but do I need to put it on and explain to haters in Ojibwemowin?

    Anyway, on the issue of “Love in the Time of Blood Quantum”, an anecdote:
    My sister goes to the University of Minnesota, which does have a pretty substantial Native population (students can even MAJOR in Native languages, jealous.) Anyway, she’s overheard this kind of stuff from her female Undergrad Native peers:
    “He doesn’t have a job or a car, but he’s got a high blood quantum…!”
    “Well, I’m thinking I’ll have kids with an Indian guy and when he leaves me I’ll find a white guy with a job.”
    “I’m never going to find an Indian guy with high blood quantum who doesn’t already have like five kids”
    etc etc etc
    As you know, this issue is beyond complicated. There are problems with these ideas and the social constructs that created them within young Native women. While subscribing to the notion that blood quantum and a tribal membership based on said blood quantum (which is, as you said, not true of all Native Nations) are the only things that make us “real” Indians, we are proving what an effective tool of oppression the creation of blood quantum as a form of identification is (note to those not in the know: it was imposed by the federal government, not the Native Nations themselves) At the same time, becoming (or creating) a citizen of a tribal nation is a way of protecting our sovereignty and passing on our culture. Do we have a duty to make more Indians? Do we have to do it with other Indians? What defines an Indian and who decides?
    Whew! vent! I always try to write short responses but it seems impossible when it comes to this subject matter.
    Come back to Vermont soon, we need to TALK because typing is annoying
    😉 Aza
    p.s. It’s ridiculous that being a tall, strong, intelligent, educated, beautiful, Native woman intimidates guys Native and otherwise. Being awesome should NOT be a deterrent!

  • You are too far out of my league but I wish you the best in finding your soul mate!

  • Great post……
    from the woman who was told by her father that his great grandmother was park Mohawk. I’m sure you have a post somewhere about mostly white people romanticizing the minute possibility of having some Native American in their genes.
    Anyway, thanks for writing!

  • I appreciate the article, it’s creating a lot of buzz on Facebook. Im a mixed Black, White, Indian whose parents have ancestry from Lumbees and other tribes on the East coast. I totally know how you feel in the identity department but not being enrolled caused even more problems while attending tribal colleges on a social level. I also wanted to say that genetics despite what we are taught in biology are not so cut in dry when dealing with people. No one is a pure race especially not Natives of African Americans, recessive genes such as light eyes, freckles, light skin, light hair color pop up all the time and whatever your kids look like, they are still you’re kids and people will always be ignorant or look at them differently but the only thing you can do is make them knowledgeable about their culture if you can.

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  • hey girl. I was at two of those elite institutions for a BA and phd and i did the same. No dating. I always says its because they were white and didnt want a brownie. But I now think it was deeper, I didnt find anyone because of just what you said, I was tired of explaining…. right on.

  • I grew up on my reservation in northeastern Montana to a family that is incredibly involved and fairly prominent there and nationally. (My grandfather was tribal chairman for a dozen years, and off the reservation many people recognize my name because of his legacy and our Supreme Court case.)

    My dad’s parents are off the boat German, though he split when I was young, and I was raised only by my indian mother and her family. That said, even that side has a French last name (hello, fur trade!). So here I am, Dakota, Lakota, German, and a teensy bit French. Green eyes. Auburn hair. Fair skin. Five names. Harvard educated, and living in Somerville, MA.

    Maybe it has something to do with the xenophobia and dichotomous nature of race that I grew up around, but I cringe at the racialization of Indian identity brought on by these discussions. Despite my Heinz 57 genetic makeup, I’m enrolled, and it’s just never been a question. I’m Fort Peck Sioux, end of story. I had a strange realization during my freshman year of college when someone said “I always check the white box, too, because I’m also white.” The idea of being “also” something else had, to that point, never even occurred to me.

    The thing is, if you do the math, I’m less than half indian. But I don’t think of myself as white at all, nor do I think of myself as racially indian. I think of myself as indian by kinship and by citizenship. Perhaps that’s splitting hairs to some, but it completely shapes my perspective. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up brown, or maybe it’s because I grew up learning about federal indian law before I learned about mixed racial identities. I don’t know. But that’s where I’m coming from.

    Now that I’ve reached an age where I realize I need to do a little future planning if I do intend to accomplish both my personal and professional goals, this has become a HUGE issue. I want my kids to be indian, and they will be, no matter what. But unless I find a Dakota/Lakota man to settle down with, they won’t be enrolled at home. And if I find a man from any other tribe, I deplete my own blood quantum and his even further, to the point where my children have to face this same question. And that matters to me. Not for any borderline-fictional benefits (we get a lovely $75 Christmas percap!) but because I want my children to be citizens of a Native Nation. I want them to grow up with that unique extra-Constitutional status.

    There’s more. I have incredible respect for my family, my ancestors, my tiyospaye. I feel fortunate to have been born to these people, that their blood flows through me, that it’s their unique combination of nucleotide bases that make “me”. And I feel indebted to them for their struggles, for the strength that is imbued in me as a result. I feel a duty to find a man who has similar respect for his lineage.

    Plus, I grew up in a single-parent household, and I want something different for my children. I want their father to be able teach my sons in ceremony, to lead by example. To dance and sing. To wear braids in a suit. To show my daughters that good indian men do exist, so that they expect more. To pass down to them all the knowledge that I, both female and fatherless, simply lack. And that’s much more important.

    But, no matter where I look, in what circles I move, I have been, without exception, disappointed in the Indian men I’ve met and dated. In my experience, they know we think of them like magical unicorns and they take full advantage of that fact. I can’t name even one faithful, monogamous indian man in my history. And I wonder about their perspective: Indian women are just as rare. Why aren’t they looking just as hard for me? Is that some sort of inherent difference between men and women, or do our societies teach indian men to value indian women differently? What gives?

  • Adrienne,
    Struck a cord with this single lady that is for sure! Great post and yes it is definitely one of those things that us single girls think about – as many have posted, is it our duty as life givers to ensure we are procreating within our own race and/or tribes? It is such a deep rooted issue – that has so many moving parts. From the onset of assimilation and President Jackson actually telling white men to procreate with native women as part of the assimilation effort – well I guess they didn’t have a choice as far as blood quantum – or you could have lucked up like my Great Aunt and get sterilized by the Gov. when you thought you were getting vaccinated….but like so many other things, it is now OUR problem to deal with (as a measure of our indianness) In an effort to keep this short – I do think it is a quiet conversation that is had with couples. I know my ex-boyfriend and I had several discussions about it and what would be the best way to ensure our unborn children would be “counted” and he is Sac&Fox/Potawatami but on paper now he is Kickapoo since 2000 he is only on the KS Kickapoo rolls due to dual enrollment & per cap issues and myself, I am like you enrolled Cherokee, but have an Irish/German Mother. I know there is yet another tribe mixed in with the Cherokee but due to two generations of my Grandmother and her Mother being raised up in a Boarding School… as stated on paper we are Cherokee and do Cherokee things.. (language, stomps, etc.) and more than likely my children will be what their Mother is… So it is a very real things and to the other post from Aza – I too hear these conversations as well and horror stories from some of my Mohawk friends who have had to deal with if they decide to marry or have children outside of the tribe they put themselves at risk of also being thrown out of the tribe. I have so many stirred emotions about this – YES, I believe in no more dilution of our tribes all the while we can embrace differences we are still only representing 1% of this nation, so we can’t afford to stay on the decline. They can keep their rations of benefits,etc. – I am speaking of our tribal culture in and of itself.. The unfortunate thing also with the dual enrollment ( I recently moved to the ABQ area) and I have friends that this affects here in the Pueblos too – they may come from 4 different Pueblos but you will here them name them all but state, “on paper I am Isleta or San Felipe, etc.” So it is apparent and it is affecting all of us. But from a social perspective as you stated the Unicorn dilemma.. lol It could thrust us into unhealthy relationships or with men who don’t honor us simply b/c we are settling for unhealthy behaviors but all in the name of blood quantum for our unborn children and grandchildren.
    Thank you for posting and lifting the rug – I think often times too many are living, “unconsciously” and not aware how this stuff is not just affecting our so called “dating life” but how it will affect our tribal nations in generations to come.

  • As an Indian man I can honestly say this goes both ways. There is so much I want to say, but I just can’t seem to verbalize it here.

    I do know that in my tribe we only trace citizenship through the woman because our clans are matrilineal and our only citizenship requirement is to have a clan. So, if your father is a citizen, but your mother is not…you’re no longer Indian.

    So, I’m on a magical search for a potential life partner in a small tribe with a maximum of 300 women to choose from. Figure a bunch of those are already in a relationship, or are too young or are elders, or even worse are in your clan…and I’m down to a very minute possible pool of partners.

    I could look to other tribes, but then I wouldn’t be able to pass on “our ways” to children that wouldn’t be considered citizens of my tribe. It would be wrong of me to pass on tribal knowledge to outsiders…even if those outsiders are my children.

    I’ve been told I’m a catch because I’m an Ivy League educated Indian man, who’s mentally stable, treats women well, and is willing to work (though I’m unemployed now)…but, it ain’t any easier for us either.

  • I cannot recommend the film “Club Native” enough in reference to blood quantum and membership. It focuses on how membership is determined on the Mohawk reservation of Kahnawake.

    I personally am a Metis woman, currently dating anothe Metis woman. I really would appreciate if you addressed some queer couples, and the options of adopting. Let’s not be so heteronormative, and focus on the nuclear family so much. In Club Native, one woman decides to adopt Mohawk children, so as to assure that they will have membership. I think that this should be considered as an option.

  • I know exactly what you mean! I’m a mixed Native myself (Blackfeet with German and Russian), and while I want my future kids to be raised with a strong connection to their tribe and their culture, I know it’ll be hard to do with a non-Native husband.

  • great post!
    so thankful for my awesome husband, aka my unicorn (full-blooded and same tribe, graduate college degree, and no kids/ex’s).

    don’t give up, they do exist!

  • Back when I wanted children, this was definitely something I was concerned about. And I felt kind of like a bad, shallow person for being concerned, so it’s really, really nice to know that I wasn’t the only one.

    I’ve never seen “Club Native”, but when I thought about adoption, I decided I would adopt children of one of my tribes in order that they might have membership/maintain ties to their tribal roots.

    I do want to note that yes, I identify as biracial, but that doesn’t mean I DON’T ID as Indian or that I think my Indian-ness doesn’t matter.

    And hey chelsano, I’m queer too! But I see the queer community around me changing drastically: more and more queer people are choosing to actually have babies rather than adopt. In fact I know more lesbians with children from their bodies than not.

  • I would like to put out there the situation I ran into as a 1/2 Lakota 1/2 Navajo woman who dated a full blood Navajo. There are times when we find the magical 4/4 blood requirements that make us all gooey and excited at the thought of our beautiful brown (unborn) babies. However, my problem was encountering a Native man who was more, let’s say, white/christian washed than ndn despite his perfect blood percentage. It’s as though if you don’t find the unicorn but are willing to fence in a wild mustang, we run into the same, yet opposite, problem. It’s as though everything I had loved discussing in my ‘prestigious’ undergrad coursework fluttered back to the fancy brick hallways of my institution. Religion has played a large role in many of our tribal nations and seems to have white washed many of our potential mates into abandoning the ideology that is at the root of who we are (or at least what we talk about and thrive on at our respective college campuses so far from home). I often wonder if we’re just talking about some nostalgic endangered species in our Native American Studies courses and glamorizing what ‘Indian’ could be, instead of what’s really left roaming freely on our Rez’s. I don’t know but it feels a lot like we can’t have our cake and eat it too.

  • Try not to let looking “Indian enough” take precedence over preserving your cultural heritage, though I understand that it can be difficult to be challenged when someone feels that you don’t “look the part”. My husband and I both have higher blood quantum than many who are enrolled, but blood feels useless without culture. We’re both brown, and our children will be too – but as our families both married out of their cultures, neither of us were raised with any native identity. To try and find that identity now feels not so different from the efforts of those with a “drop of native blood” who are seeking their “ancestors” – just because it’s my genetic history, should it be my culture? I’m not sure. I would rather look “white” but have been raised within a rich cultural tradition than look “Indian enough” and be lost without it.

  • I won’t go too far into the intensely personal reasons this post struck such a chord with me, but I’m a mixed non-enrolled Northern Cheyenne (non-enrolled due to the intense objection of my white side of the family when I was a kid, its a long painful story for me and several family members) who “looks” Native, married to a blonde blue eyed tribally enrolled Choctaw. I think about what I’m going to pass on, tell, explain etc., with our children all the time. I can’t say too much that hasn’t already been said here but the fact that people are having this discussion, in such honest, productive ways really really helps. Thanks for another especially fabulous post, for sharing your story, and bringing us all to a positive and welcoming place where we feel brave enough to talk about our experiences and tears shed with this.

  • Well, just to say, don’t forget to love yourself… I say that because I feel like when I limited my look on love in these ways (I didn’t even realize I was doing it, it becomes so engrained maybe), I limited my look on love for myself… slowly looking down on things like my own eyes, hair, skin… kind of hard not to, maybe, when that’s the mindset encouraged?

    I wonder how many babies are born in situations where BQ was the agenda, rather than love…

    I also wonder how many native women feel like they can’t leave a bad situation because it feels like a betrayal of their tribe… or their partners make it appear that way?

    I like what Mar posts from time to time from Toni Morrison, because it reminds me of all this…

    “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”

    I am thinking love by fractions can be pretty thin love…

  • In any case, its also worth looking into how other indigenous peoples deal with these issues of self-determination despite colonization. Not everyone has blood quantum, or at least its not played out quite the same way as here always… I love how you have to explain BQ to a Maori for instance… and they find it shocking… Family is family, whanau is whanau. I am sure they have their cultural transmission issues too under colonization, but how hard it is for us people in the states to even think outside what the BIA has labeled us sometimes… whether its BQ or Federal Recognition… limits on the self-determination practices of peoples and for what purposes. Keep up the good work. :)

  • This is an excellent topic that affects me in a different way because I am a man who is married already, but concerned about my son’s choices in a wife when the time comes.

    I am mixed blood NDN, my wife is mixed blood Filipina. My son is not ‘pure’ anything, but I try to bring him up knowing who he is as a Native. My wife doesnt teach him anything about Filipinos, mainly because although her mother tried to raise her up with knowledge of her filipino side, my wife wasnt interested in learning the language or culture. I live in a mostly white, southern, rural area. We moved here a few years back for complicated reasons. I joke with my son sometimes saying ‘when you get 18 Im going to take you to Oklahoma to find a wife’. Although I am joking with him I honestly wish I could do that. I want him to marry an NDN woman, truth be told. I want his bloodline to get put ‘back in order’ so to speak. Its hard enough being mixed blood in an urban, non-Native setting where most people dont even know what you are. I want him to be proud to be Native and pass that along to Native children.

  • Great conversations on relating to identity! But what do unicorns do? Native unicorns, randomly and mysteriously catching up on sleep.. haha..

  • I have never commented before, but have been reading for a while. I always considered myself to be in the “Connected Advocates” or “Native Ally” category. I majored in Native American studies and Anthro in college, and spent time on 2 different parts of the Dineh (Navajo reservation) for extended periods of time.

    I am adopted and recently found my birth family and started learning about my ancestry. I found out that on my paternal line, my 13th great grandfather was a Mohawk sachem named Caniachkoo. Now this is back in the mid-1500’s but it is still a part of my history and DNA and I believe has played a role in my life for a long time given my involvement as an advocate for Native people and my interest in Native cultures for so long (since I was about 14 years old).

    I told a Native friend about this and she said not to talk about Native blood in drops (I had said something like I have maybe one drop of Mohawk). She said, either you are or you aren’t and it doesn’t matter how much blood or DNA is in there. That some ancestors speak more loudly to us than others.

    So I am glad that you wrote this. As a Native ally, I have seen so much romanticism about Native peoples and I have always checked and double checked myself to be sure that I don’t fall into those traps. And maybe it is romantic of me to claim this Native ancestry because it was so long ago. But it feels valid, and it feels important, and it feels like it has helped to shape my life in so many ways.

    I have no intention of trying to enroll in the Mohawk tribe, but I will learn more about the culture, food and people and maybe that legacy can live on in me, even if it is just a little bit.

    So thank you for writing this post. It has been great reading other people’s comments as well.

  • Would love to know if there is a place to watch Club Native online. Anyone know?

  • Ohmahgod, THANK YOU. I made a tumblr that talks about assimilation/appropriation but goddammit, you’re a way better writer than me. I should just let you write it all (seems like you have) and get on with my merry life knowing you can put how i feel into words.

  • AHH!!! GURL! i too have looked at potential partners as ‘punnet squares’ and think aaalll the time about how morenitop (dark-skinned) my children may or may not be and what that means for them and me and our futures. then sometimes i’m like, we are ALL members of the HUMAN race and i don’t even want to discriminate.

    you speak TRUTH sister. it’s hard growing up a light-skinned, light-eyed indian (i know native is more PC but it is what it is, as I am sure you WeLL know!)!!

    I love though, now in my life, I am done apologizing. There is nothing we can do about colonization and our european AND indigenous ancestry and I am so grateful to be LiVinG and have the privilege of the discourse it provides.

    big ups to you on your journey and research and the beauty solidarity it inspires in souls like ours:) I would love to catch up sometime!

  • Although I am worried about having children with another Native, I’m not so worried about the paper trail of blood quantum. I am more worried about the cultural and language aspects that I want my children to grow up with. I think that is much more important than finding a mate to continue the blood line, have social legitmacy, or get tribal benefits. I personally could care less how a guy looks on paper or even in physical apperance, its the knowledge and importance of culture that matters the most. Not only for passing on traditions but like you said, not having to explain yourself all the time.

  • Great post, AMAZING comments! I feel so privileged to read these stories if identity and continuing colonial oppression.

    I’m not Aboriginal; I’m a 6th generation Canadian immigrant of Irish, Basque and Dutch descent. I work in child protection in the Aboriginal stream; I, too, consider myself an ally of Indigenous people.

    Canada doesn’t specifically rely on BQ to determine “Indian Status”, but has similar federal restrictions on who gets counted as Aboriginal. These laws have twice been challenged by Aboriginal women. Both cases went beyond our Supreme court to the United Nations. The first challenge changed the law so that Aboriginal women who married non Aboriginal men no longer automatically lost their Status. The second is waiting to be heard by the UN.

    It’s all Imperialist bullshit. Why should any sovereign Nation allow another State to determine it’s membership?

    This question of identity vs. official status is a big issue for many of the families I work with in child protection. One of my moms is Aboriginal non-Status. This is enough for her to be served by the Aboriginal child protection stream instead of the mainstream team, however, the community services we refer to may require Status, or Band membership (not mutually exclusive). OR, the services may NOT require official Status, but the community may be biased against providing services to her (even if the agency isn’t).

    For example, my client went to the Aboriginal community services agency in my very urban community. They have many services, including one to one family preservation workers (to prevent removals to foster care, or to facilitate returns from kinship care). This mom wanted to use the employment center to fax out resumes. The reception person asked her if she was Native, and then if her kids were Native (the dad was a South American immigrant, and was deported). My client said they weren’t, and that she was a half-breed, and she left without service. The community member told my client they had to keep resources for Natives within the community.

    When I referred this client to the family preservation worker, she felt uncomfortable, and preferred to access mainstream services. I talked about this with one of the workers, who acknowledged the issue with the receptionist, but noted she’s related to the director, so her position is political, in some senses.

    I just think it’s unfortunate for my client and her children to lose access to cultural services through such artificial boundaries as colonial determinants of identity.

    If we continue to determine “Indian-ness” through blood quotient, or through the number of Status grandparents, Aboriginal peoples will eventually dissapear. If we choose to shift to culture and community as determinants, Aboriginal peoples will be able to thrive.

  • Normally, I’m a big fan of the blog, but this post really irked me.

    If Native cultural identity is more than “blood quantum,” then why do you position an interracial Native cultural identity as a zero-sum game? I’m totally with you that NPR misses the mark on the real issue, but concern for cultural identity and preservation or dealing with identity politics isn’t proprietary to Native communities, and there’s an implied supposition that it is. As a Latino male who dates a Native woman and could have children with her in the future, I’ve thought about how their Latino AND Native identities will both manifest themselves. BOTH IDENTITIES. And ultimately, I don’t see that one “needs” to lose to the other or at more risk than the other, at least at the hands of being in an interracial relationship. Maybe because of more broad societal influences, but that’s not specific to interracial relationships – all minorities and cultures are at risk.

    I get what you’re trying to saying about educated, motivated Native men being magical unicorns. Facetiousness aside, it underscores the 500+ years of colonialism and the social and educational inequities that come with it, particularly evidenced in the lack of “good” Native men. But there’s an almost implied settling for dating non-Native guys who otherwise get it, and it seems to be a prevailing thought among Native women. I normally wouldn’t care what other peoples’ preferences, except for how I came to read this particular blog post was I was referred to recently as my girlfriend’s “Mexican unicorn” and I decided to get the context. I’m not a settling choice for my girlfriend. She knows it. I know it. But I think it’s really unfair for Native women to perpetuate this concept of who’s the perfect person for a Native woman. What sort of implicit relationship commentary is going on when this is the message Native women who aren’t going out with a magical unicorn encounter? Not to mention being heteronormative, as someone mentioned above. (I wouldn’t have considered that on my own, but the commenter did give me some food for thought.)

    If Native cultural identity is more than “blood quantum,” then why feel compelled to think about blood percentage or tribal identification when out at a bar scoping out attractive coeds? If Native cultural identity is more than “blood quantum,” then why be concerned with your kids being ethnically ambiguous and “passing” as Native? And if Native cultural identity is more than “blood quantum,” then why does it have to be another Native male or female as the perfect partner? I believe Native cultural identity does go beyond blood quantum. Cultural identity can be fostered and nurtured by anyone of any background who respects his or her partner’s culture enough to make it a priority, and I refuse to believe my girlfriend’s hypothetical kids are going to be any less Native because she ended up with a Mexican, nor any less Mexican because she’s Native.

    Adrienne, I don’t mean this in any way as a diatribe against you or your blog. You have some great observations , and to open yourself up in such a way to the world is enviable. Keep the dialogue going! I know you have a lot of readers, and judging from some of the comments, I had to say something.

    All the best,

  • Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!


  • I’m not Native American, I’m Iranian and European in ancestry. I have a tribe though, the Ghajar/Qajar tribe: my father’s people were nomads for thousands of years, and I’ve grown up valuing and learning everything I can about that culture. It is the culture that has shaped me more than any other.

    My fiancee is Lakota and European (we’re both 50/50). I always thought I’d end up with an Iranian person to make sure our kids were Iranian, but love is too strong and blind for those things to matter.

    What gave me peace–and what I think is one of many many parallels between my indigenous Asian heritage and my fiancee’s Lakota heritage–is that our tribes were never historically homogenous; there was no “ethnicity,” quantum, etc. There was language and culture, and that’s it. Her ancestors include Northern Cheyenne, as mine include Mongol, Turk, Dagestani, Siberian, etc. Lakota, like many tribes, had and have ceremonies that recognize kinship based not on blood but upon the more reliable foundation of having kindred souls. My people had this too.

    There’s not a culture on earth that isn’t a mix genetically, otherwise we’d all have inbred diseases. What matters–and it matters a LOT–is values, culture, spirituality, language, and outlook.

    If I’m lucky enough to have children with my fiancee (God willing, as we say in Iran!) then they will be very very “mixed.” But culturally, my fiancee and I have so much in common that it often seems the only differences are the language–even the spirituality, smudging, prayers, etc. are similar. So I don’t worry too much about the culture, though our children will have to grow up trilingual!

  • I am a college educated Native man. Quite honestly, when you live in a Native community, these issues do not exist that much, you either are or arent indian. Now, I do have a problem with thinbloods claiming their indian heritage, and ignoring thier majority of whiteness, I mean if you are only one quarter, or an eighth ‘Cherokee’ and grew up in California, what in the heck makes you cherokee indian?!? Nothing. I have dated fullblooded indian girls, including fullblooded Cherokee women. My cousins speak Cherokee, and I have no doubt that they will have no problem finding a high BQ girl here in Oklahoma. We live our culture everyday, and there is no half stepping here. Quite frankly, if you are insecure about your ‘indianness’ than you probably should not be claiming it. Seems to me if the white women on here with a thin strain of indian blood keep making derogetory remarks about indian men, it is no wonder that you never end up with one. I mean, I would rather have a beautiful brown skinned fullblood woman than an insecure urban ‘Cherokee’ who has to try too hard to prove that they are ‘indian’ and complain about stuff that doesnt really matter in the real world. I mean, if you are not even involved in your tribe, and culture, then dont complain. I lived away for a while, and made frequent trips back home, but I was under no illusion that I was helping my tribe by doing so. You have to go home to be in your culture, and find Indian people. The real ones will end up back home anyways, you will rarely find them living in the white world, and they are mainly the white washed ones anyway.
    So anyway, there are strong indian people out there doing good things in mainstream society, but lay off the derogetory remarks, drop your romanticism about dating an ‘indian guy’ and get real. just believeing you are indian doesnt make it so, and neither does having a thin strain of indian blood. You got to live it, breathe it, and stay connected, or you are simply one more assimilated american who doesnt know or care where they came from.

  • I was just pointed to this website. THANK YOU. I am a red haired, green eyed, pale skinned person of Irish, French Canadian, and Native (Pequot) descent. My great grandmother was “full.” And her husband was “part.” I have no paperwork or documentation.. mainly because she was somebody’s maid with improper healthcare who died at the age of 27 from TB. I have a really hard time with people who are disrespectful of the way I choose to honor my ancestors. My response to people generally is, “So, because my Native ancestors fell in love with a couple white people, that erased thousands upon thousands of years of them existing?” I have a daughter with a man who is in the same boat as me, except that his mother and sister both still look very Native. Our daughter looks Native. (Although, to be fair, I believe she’s Irish, French Canadian, Native, Swiss German, English, and Scottish) 😉 I can’t wait till we take her to her first gathering to teach her about her ancestors…all of her ancestors. I know what I am. I don’t care who has a problem with it. I am secure with myself and my history.