Revisiting Love in the Time of Blood Quantum

In blood quantum, Long form essays, Love, Uncategorized by Adrienne K.13 Comments


Um, apparently there’s a site that’s a “unicorn or Native American name generator.” Problematic. The picture works surprisingly well though…

I know it’s been a long time between posts, I’m actually in the process of writing my dissertation(!!!). I’m getting into a routine, and hope that will mean I’ll have a (little) spare time to post more. This post is one that’s been percolating in my head for months, and while there are some more pressing issues I want to write about soon, sometimes words just have to come out.

Writing about dating on the internet is weird. Writing about dating on the internet when most, if not all, of the guys you’ve dated still read your blog, is even weirder. Writing about dating on the internet when Indian Country is so freaking small that it feels like everyone knows who you’ve dated and they all know each other is probably the weirdest of all. So hi. Hi all the guys I’ve dated in the last 4 years on the East Coast, even you, adorably short die-hard Redsk*ns fan. I’m not gonna put you all on blast. I liked all of you. Didn’t always like the way things ended, but you know how that is. So I’m not going to go through the process of what it was like dating each of you, though that might be fun. But what I am going to do is talk about some bigger issues of dating, while being an Indian.

In 2011, I wrote “Love in the time of Blood Quantum,” a post that attempted to lay out some of the quandaries I faced in my desires to date Native guys. Reading it now, lots of it really makes me cringe.  But I think the comments are some of the best on any post on the blog, and I love the way they made me question my assumptions and privilege, and really forwarded my thinking. More on that in a minute. I think these two paragraphs sum up the bulk of my argument from that piece, but I also talked about the ways the media represents the issue too, so go take a look if you’re interested:

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 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.

Ok, as I’m cringing here (so young and naïve!), let’s talk about this. So #1, that piece was so heteronormative. I never meant to generalize to all Native experiences with the post, as I am careful to never do on le blog, but I realize now that not even mentioning my blinding hetero/cis privilege in all of this was hurtful and harmful. In subsequent conversations with some of my queer Native friends, I’ve listened to their stories, and realized that their experiences are in many ways similar, but are further complicated by a panoply of struggles that I can’t even begin to imagine. So I apologize for my lack of awareness and insensitivity, and I don’t want to speak for other’s experiences. I (truly!) invite anyone to offer their thoughts for a guest post. Just email me.  So with the rest of this post, I’m going to be upfront that this is a straight/cis female perspective, and only represents my opinion.


Moving on to the next way my thinking has, shall we say, matured in the last two years. The term “Unicorn.” Holy crap do I regret putting that out in the universe and letting it be absorbed into the Native lexicon. At the time, that’s totally how I felt. I put Native guys on some pedestal like they deserved all our reverence and solemn respect. Admired for their rarity, like an endangered species at the zoo. I’ve met women when I’m “on the road” who have introduced their partners to me as “this is my unicorn ________”. A friend called a fancy dress she wore at a conference her “unicorn slayer” dress. Another friend refers to her current beau as “Dr. Unicorn.” When I started dating a particular guy a couple years back, I got a text from a friend excitedly proclaiming, “AK, you found your unicorn!” I had even started using it with a qualifier to describe any man of color I was dating. “He’s a Black unicorn!”

I now think this is a problem. A big one. One that was pointed out in the comments of the first post, and something I dismissed at the time. Exalting Native men like they’re the be-all-end-all (to employ a term of my grandma) discounts the rarity and specialness of educated, motivated Native women. I’ve started to feel that it creates a situation where Native men know they’re special and rare, and don’t treat Native women with the respect they deserve—because there’s always another eager, intelligent Native woman when you’re through with that one. Or maybe that’s just been my experience?

Pause. Disclaimer. I know lots of great Native men. Lots of respectful, kind, wonderful Native men. I see many positive examples of Native relationships in my life, in my family, and in my close friends. I encounter them often. I am making generalizations in order to talk about something that I think many of us see, but don’t always acknowledge. I am not saying every Native man is disrespectful or a philanderer. Ok? Please don’t send me hate mail. I get enough already.

Here was the original comment, so you don’t have to take my word for it:

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?

Ironically, or hopefully?, this commenter (of course I know her, the ndn world is small) has since ended up with a Native guy, who by all accounts, is awesome. So there’s that.

But returning to her point. In the last two years I’ve had FOUR incredible Native women in my life who have been in committed, long-term (years and years) relationships with Native men, three resulting in children, who discovered their partners had engaged in long term infidelity. I’ve watched them deal with the sadness, the divorces, and the struggles to start over. They’re all amazing, and in each of them I can’t imagine what more you could ask for in a spouse and mother to your children.

I know anecdotes do not make data, but when I’ve had this many women so close to me dealing with the same story, it has helped shift my thinking, which is what we’re talking about…right?

The other piece I’ve watched in myself and my friends is turning Indian men into a series of checkboxes, seeing how many “requirements” they fulfill, and leaving themselves in unhappy, unfulfilling, or even dangerous relationships because their man clicks so many of the boxes. Again, I’ll return to the comments from the first post, this one from my classmate in undergrad. “M” is one of our mutual friends:

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 M. 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…”

Love by fractions is pretty thin love. I think that’s the biggest way my thinking has changed. In my original post I was so focused on the appeals of a Native guy that I forgot about the most important thing of all (cue sappy movie music)—this is supposed to be about love. I don’t want to just date so I can have an Indian baby, I want to fall in love. I want to find someone who loves all of me—the Indian parts and the non-Indian parts. My highly critical lens on the world, my passion for my community, my height, my light eyes, my light skin, my “low blood quantum,” the fact that I have a blog and could potentially call them out to the world at any moment if they wrong me (not that I would do that, geez)—I want someone who loves all of that. If you look back at my original post, all I really said is I wanted someone who “gets it.” Someone who can laugh at inside Indian jokes, feel comfortable in and around Native communities, who understands oppression and marginalization, and supports social justice. Who said that person has to be Native? (I know, I did. That was me.)

For me, many of my checkboxes stemmed from my own deep insecurities about my identity, something that is readily apparent in the original post. I worried that my children wouldn’t “pass” as Indian if they were more mixed than me, and I worried that they wouldn’t be accepted in Native circles if they were a low-blood quantum Cherokee. Those fears are still real, but I also have come to realize that I was also afraid that I wasn’t “Indian enough” to be the sole carrier of culture in my future-fictional-family, that I didn’t know enough about being Cherokee, about traditional culture, language, whatever, to pass it along to my children. I wanted someone who knew more than me who could take on that role. You guys, that’s just silly. Because in the last two years I’ve also come more and more to value the culture of my own Cherokee community, and I know no matter what I want my kids to be not just Indian, but Cherokee. Unless I end up with a Cherokee guy, that’s all on me no matter what. And I am completely capable of handling that biz.

I often have long conversations about these very issues with friends, and they have made me realize that I am actually in a privileged position. Being a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, we don’t have a blood quantum requirement for tribal citizenship. So no matter how things shake out, as long as my child comes out of me (that’s a whole other post, btw), he or she can be enrolled Cherokee. We also are matrilineal, so my kiddos will have a clan too.

But for some of my friends from other communities, their tribes do have BQ requirements. For some of them who are already mixed, either with other tribes or other races, if they don’t have kids with someone from their community, their offspring won’t be able to be enrolled. When your tribe has less than 1000 members, that becomes an issue—the pool is kinda small. There are also issues brought by casinos, and money has brought a whole new level of complication to the issue of relationships and children—only enrolled children have access to tribal resources. So even while my friends can expose about how blood isn’t what makes you Indian, about community connection, culture, and family being more important—they’re still stuck in a situation where their values aren’t matched by others in the community, and it has real implications for them and their children. Another commenter (and a close friend) tied it up succinctly:

…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?

Colonialism leaves a helluva legacy, doesn’t it? That to me is the saddest and most frustrating part of all this. Notions of “blood fractions” are a complete colonial construction, designed to “breed out” Indians, and now they’ve been internalized and are being used by our own communities to further restrict not only the futures of our tribes, but our right to love. So is reclaiming your right to love whomever you want an act of decolonization? Or is it weakening modern tribal sovereignty? I’m still not sure.

So right now it might sound like I’m all rah-rah I’ll date/marry/have kids with anyone!, but a couple of weeks ago I was standing on Kituwah mound in Cherokee, NC—the Cherokee mother town, my original homelands. As I was standing there in the misty early morning…I wasn’t actually thinking about dating, don’t worry. But what I was thinking about is how important and powerful that connection—to land, ancestors, and community—is to me. Later, though, I did think about how cool it would be to find someone who shares that connection, and how nice it would be to be with someone who understood, on a deeper and spiritual level, what it means to be Cherokee. So those original desires are still there, at least in the back of my mind.

I still don’t have a lot of luck in the dating arena, though there have been some bright spots. I joked with my friend last weekend that it must be the universe’s way of keeping me in balance—because I’m pretty good at everything else in my life that I try, but for some reason successful dating and relationships have always been the one thing that eluded me. Maybe it’s because I intellectualize it to death and can write 2500 words about it in one sitting…but who knows. All I know is that two years ago, I wrote an ode to the “unicorn,” and it’s continued to bother me since. I’ve grown and matured since then, in both my thinking and my security with my own identity, and I know the conversation is much bigger than I once thought. The layers of identity, love, and yes, blood quantum, can’t be unpacked in two blog posts. But what it boils down to for me, right now, is the perhaps trite idea that “Love in the Time of Blood Quantum” shouldn’t have to look any different than love at any other time.  Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, because clearly even all these words can’t begin to touch the levels of complication to this all. I’d really love some male perspectives, some LGBTQ perspectives, some other perspectives that adamantly disagree with me—anyone. If you’d like to share your ideas about dating while Native, I welcome and encourage your guest posts.

Original Post (4/4/2011): “Love in the Time of Blood Quantum

Other articles/posts on the topic:

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


PS- I would also like to extend my apologies to all the non-Native men dating/loving/marrying Native women that I hurt with my first post. One in particular, I think he knows who he is. You are not second-best, your fierce Native woman is not settling for you because she couldn’t find a “unicorn.” You are exactly what she deserves, needs, and wants. I hope you know that I wish you all the best, and can’t wait to meet your adorable babies in the future.

  • Taylor

    Thanks for the mention of queer Native experiences. :)

    I’m only 20 years old, in my 3rd year of undergrad, and am already having anxiety about whether or not my future children will be “Native.” My tribe has a 1/4th blood requirement and the only way my children would be enrolled is if my sperm donor (if that is the path my future partner and I decide to take) was at least a quarter Ojibwe.

    Now queer people trying to start families is already complicated enough with strict adoption requirements, not to mention the huge costs of sperm donor and similar avenues. Throw Native and blood requirement on top of that, I am prematurely freaking out about my future family.

    And the biggest stress for me is not that my children won’t be enrolled (because they will be anishinaabe no matter what), but that my parents and my family will not recognize my children as their grandchildren, because I am queer and I may or may not be the birth mother of my children. As Native people, we all know how important family is, and not just immediate family but aunties, cousins, uncles, grandparents, and so on. I’m worried about how my children will learn about their culture and where they come from if my entire family doesn’t claim them or me and my future partner.

    The queer Native struggle is real y’all.

  • Khelsilem

    Membership laws and Indian Status is a bit different in Canada, but I have formulated my own thoughts about this subject. Interestingly, as a Native man (from the west coast) I haven’t met many Native women for similar reasons you talked about for finding Native men.

    Mind you — I’ve come to a place where I feel comfortable expressing what I want in my relationships. This is, in my experience anyways, really intimidating for women I date/meet who are in my generation bracket.

    I also don’t drink alcohol or do any type of drugs. Within the Indigenous dating world — this makes things oddly difficult (in my area at least).

    I will date non-Indigenous but I have no desire to have children with anyone that isn’t Indigenous. As a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh-Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw man, I also feel it is important to have Sḵwx̱wú7mesh/Coast Salish or Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw children. It is far more likely to happen if the kinship of my children are strongly rooted in those cultural heritages from both their father (me) and their mother. It is not about race for me, but heritage and cultural values of my future children, grandchildren, etc.

    All in all though… I have no complaints. Just curiosities.

  • Big Mountain

    (My first time commenting here!) I wish I had found this a few years ago. As a Native woman, living in England, to white English man, I FEEL this conflict. All. The. Time. I am without a clan, I look WAY too white to be Native, and I’m too low BQ to be enrolled in any of my tribes, but I AM Native. I struggled, and still do struggle, with my love for my whitest-of-white husband and this worry that if I decide to have kids (which is a thing, I’m not sure about that yet) they will suffer the hurt I have felt, as well as feeling somehow beholden to my tribes and to my family to Continue The Race ™. Thanks for posting, and in a way, letting me know I’m not alone.

  • Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy

    Miigwech for discussing such an important subject again. More importantly, thank you for showing your shift in thinking and feeling over time and for saying sorry when needed. Both aspects of this blog touched my heart. Miigwech!

  • Jodi Lynn Maracle

    She:kon Adrienne. As a 1/4 bq Mohawk woman PhD student whose family’s home reserve is on the Canadian side of the border, that recently and blessedly has received the joyous news that she shall giver birth to a baby fathered by her 3/4 bq Tuscarora PhD student boyfriend whose home reserve is on the US side, I cannot tell you enough how the discussion doesn’t stop at blood quantum but is intrinsically tied to borders as well.

    Our baby will not be considered Indian by either federal government. Tuscarora adheres strictly to the matrilineal system and since the baby will be less than 50%, the US government will not recognize our child (not that that’s all that matters obviously) nor will our child be on the Tuscarora rolls.Nor will the child be recognized on the Canadian side since “blood quantum” does not carry across the border. Even though Tuscarora and Mohawk are part of the greater Rotishonni/Six Nations confederacy, and we share the longhouse traditions, our child is essentially forbidden from exerting any legal rights as a member of a sovereign nation and a member of a political, social, spiritual structure in existence since time immemorial. Since our child will not “have enough blood quantum” on either side, I will not be able to pass down the land that still holds on it the house where my grandfather grew up. Given the reality that many (from my understanding mostly east of the Mississippi nations, which makes sense given the centuries between contact of native nations on the east coast and the west) nations are now majority comprised of members at the tail end of “acceptable” blood quantum (be it 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 or even via traditional systems of belonging) it’s important to imagine a future centered around that which has allowed all Onkwehonwe (indigenous) people to remain here, alive, with our languages and practices and beliefs in tact, into today: resilience, creativity, adaptability.

    While there is ever the necessity of exercising a system of membership, it must also decolonize itself not just from notions of blood quantum, but from notions of permanence and of rules that are essentially self destructive. And we must not simply address internal systems of belonging, but external (federal/state) forms of recognition. We must demand that the settler governments adhere not to their genocidal laws that have become internalized, but rather they accept the lists of members from various nations. Allow native nations to address for themselves, for better or worse, “who is” and “who isn’t”.

    Adoption, absorption, has long been a policy of the Rotinoshonni (Iroquois). Only recently, in an inherited xenophobia from the settler colonial governments, has that policy drastically shifted. Given the near success of the residential school systems, the 60’s sweep, the ongoing onslaught of historical lies from the overculture, and the ensuing confusions, traumas and desperate realities ensuing from such, it is understandable that, for a time, the ideal became an aestethic; a strict set of phenotypic traits that determine “who is” and “who isn’t”.

    Science and colonialism, science and genocide, these are common bedfellows. Science operates in favor of the funder. History is written by the winners. We must cast a spurious eye towards this safety net of “blood quantum”. It allows us to avoid the difficult discussions of what citizenship in our own particular nations means. It allows us to shirk the responsibilities of helping to carry the knowledge of our individual nations resting on instead on the laurels of our individual CDIB. It allows to succumb to the pressures of what Paul Chaat Smith accurately dubbed, MITT Syndrome (More Indian Than Thou). It allows federal governments to tell beautiful, queer, loving Onkwehonwe couples that they cannot call their child Indian if they do not have enough money for fertility options.

    I think it’s apparent that I have no concrete answers, and I don’t think anyone does at this point. But it’s important we keep the conversation going. And that we realize that we must turn a critical eye in all directions, ourselves, our home nations our federal governments. But, through it all, we must not be afraid to love, to love passionately and to love our children and the children and loves of others no matter their status. I’ve seen too many women, including myself, in abusive, life-threatening relationships because of some misguided belief in “keeping the blood lines strong”. Too many people pass love by because someone isn’t Indian or Indian enough to pass the dreaded BQ test. Too many people come to awkward verbal contracts to breed to have a 100% baby. This isn’t living. This is breeding. This is pedigreeing. We deserve better. We deserve to give ourselves our humanity back.

    Sorry so long winded and Nia:wen!

    Jodi Lynn Maracle

  • michael watson

    What a fine post! We all, hopefully, grow and change, repeatedly. I often think colonialism complicates love on many fronts, turning nature into conflict, and love into suffering. Add casinos and the morass just intensifies.

    Time tends to bring along good folks for us, The hard part is being patient and staying with our values in the meanwhile. Good hunting.

  • Breonna

    To add even more intersectionality when talking about blood quantums, what about the descendants of former slaves of Natives, as in the
    Cherokee Freedmen controversy, or those with African descent as well? How does blackness play into who is considered truely “native?” We say that tribal cizitenship is not all about benefits, yet, at least in the Cherokee Freeman controversey, they were excluded percisely because of that. Can one marginalized group be racist towards another?

    • FX

      Thank you for bringing this up Breonna. I was wondering about what she thought about this as well.

  • FX

    Adrienne – I love the way you think. I tend to be pretty bad at dating as well and I know that I’ve written more than 2500 words on it in one sitting…

    I also tend to be deeply reflective and the things you described (a lens that includes oppression and marginalization, and support of social justice) are also important to me. I had a difficult time finding someone who felt this was important. Now that I have my partner, I’m having trouble finding friends who value these things but aren’t also tied to a christian mindset.

    Either way, I just wanted to chime in and let you know that these conversations are happening in the Afro-American community as well. So y’all ain’t the only ones.

    Colonialism: the gift that keeps on giving.

  • Theresa W.

    Great post, as was the first — what an interesting glimpse into what it is like to be part of a culture that employs genealogical terms (1/16, 1/32 something). I’m not native, but can relate a bit: I’m fortunate that whenever I want to attend a ceilidh, or Scottish dancing night, it matters only that I’m part Scottish. Not that I am, at most, 1/64 Scottish — and, let’s face it, more likely 1/132. (And to be frank, it doesn’t matter that the friends I bring along are Persian, Chinese, or German — just that they’re learning the dances and keeping the culture alive.)

    I wish that the North American tribes handled things mor like the Maori. Living in New Zealand, it was refreshing to see people with flaming red hair identify as Maori and be accepted as such. If you feel like a part of the culture, you can be. Take a look at the national Maori Rugby Team photos to see people who don’t look stereotypically Polynesian

  • Love this follow up. This is an ongoing discussion that evolves as we evolve. And I’m STILL struggling with this. All of the times. Thank you for this Adrienne!

  • 10100111001

    There is going to be a TV show on APTN that focuses in part on this, called Mohawk Girls. I have a feeling I will be laughing and crying relating all too well… I did end up on a date with a “Unicorn” a Mohawk unicorn even… and then I found out we are 3rd cousins, and same clan

  • I just had the “vanishing race” conversation a week ago. The question of BQ is something my tribe (Oneida) is starting to discuss and plan for – in 50 years we won’t have native americans. That’s just mathematics if we’re going by blood quantum. There are families in my tribe that don’t think it’s an issue. And it isn’t…for them, but will be in a few more generations. State and federal governments take their cue from tribal governments (one bright spot). It’s on us to meet the math head on, maybe reevaluate what tribal identity and membership means – outside of benefits and money – and find a way to exist (and thrive?) in a world where identity is more important that BQ.