Book Review: The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King

I almost gave up on this book, thinking it wasn’t exactly teaching me anything I couldn’t find elsewhere but something held me until the last 25% of the book. That’s when things took a turn. Never read something so informative and direct about tribal casinos. Made certain things click for me. Was also very weird to read this in light of the new Wilma Mankiller quarter being minted. I guess I should have known, but I hadn’t done the math to realize her stance and role in the Cherokee Freedmen controversy. There appears to be some grey area into the identity of the author, so also willing pause any recommendation to sit with that.


Here are some quotes I wanted to save from the book:

“As corollary, I’m even willing to admit that Native people have made some rather grievous errors, have had significant lapses in judgement. We’ve done a reasonably good job of injuring ourselves without the help of non-Natives. For instance, for decades we’ve beaten each other up over who is the better Indian. Full-bloods versus mixed-bloods. Indians on reservations and reserves versus Indians in cities. Status versus non-Status. Those who are enrolled members of a tribe versus those who are not. Those of us who look Indian versus those of us who don’t. We have been and continue to be brutal about these distinctions, a mutated strain of ethnocentrism.” – page 152


“Membership in an Aboriginal Nation is a somewhat bewildering combination of federal legislation, federal treaties and agreements, blood quantum, and nineteenth-century enumeration lists, along with tribal regulations and customs. In Canada, the Indian Act, along with the treaties, sets some of the terms of reference for band membership, while in the United States, membership, in part, is based on federal recognition of a tribe and the lists that the government created to keep track of Aboriginal people.

In Canada, as we saw earlier, Native people are divide, more or less, into three categories: Status Indians, Treaty Indians, and non-Status Indians. In most instances, Status Indians are simply no Indian, or, more accurately, not Legal Indians.

In the United States, Legal Indians are members of a tribe that is recognized by the federal government, while the rest of Native people in that country are, like their counterparts in Canada, not Indians. In fact, with the passage of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act in 1990, Native artists who produce and sell their work cannot call themselves by their tribal affiliation unless they are official members of the tribe. To do so is to risk fines of up to $250,000.

The Arts and Crafts Act was designed to stop the trade in counterfeit “Native art” that unscrupulous dealers were bringing in from places such as Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and India, and in this regard, the act was a welcome law. But the unfortunate side effect of the act was to ‘terminate’ a great many native artists who were Indians by blood but who, for a variety of reasons, were not official members of a tribe. Many of them had home communities. Many of them had blood relatives living in those communities. Yet under the terms of the act, they could be prosecuted for claiming they were who they were because, legally, they weren’t.

Jimmie Durham is one such artist. He’s Cherokee, but because he can’t legally say he’s Cherokee, he’s not. I probably shouldn’t have mention this since it may be illegal for me to…you know, say this. Durham himself is somewhat circumspect about the issue of identity. ‘I’m a full-blood contemporary artist,’ says Durham, ‘of the sub-group (or clan) called sculptors…I am not a “Native American,” nor do I feel that “America” has any right to either name me or un-name me. I have previously state that I should be considered mixed-blood: that is, I claim to be a male but in fact only one of my parents was male.”

Today, almost all Aboriginal Nations control their memberships. While the rules and regulations differ from tribe to tribe, band to band, the general retirement is that a blood relationship exist between a registered Indian or an ancestor on the tribal rolls and individual seeking membership. Sometimes there is a blood-quantum requirement as well. The Blackfoot in Alberta and the Comanche in Oklahoma, for example, currently require that, in addition to a blood tie, their members be at least one-quarter blood. But they could, if they wished, lower that blood quantum requirement or dispense with it altogether. This is what the Ottawa, Seminole, Wyandot, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw have done. For these tribes and others, any descendant of a tribal member is also entitled to be a member of the tribe, regardless of blood quantum.

But there can be other factors as well. The Cherokee, for example, have fifteen tribal rolls that were created between 1817 and 1914. A great many Cherokee can trace their family back to a name on one of these rolls, but unless your ancestor appears on the 1924 Baker rolls that cover the Eastern Cherokee or the 1898-1914 Dawes-Gaion-Miller rolls that cover the Western Cherokee, you cannot qualify for membership in one of the three federal recognized Cherokee tribes: the Eastern Cherokee, the Western Cherokee, and the United Keetoowah Band. Neither the Baker nor the Dawes-Gaion-Miller rolls are a comprehensive or complete compilation of Cherokee families, but these rolls are the only sources that the bribe uses for determining who can be a citizen of the nation.

The Keetoowah, to complicate things further, require that a member be one-quarter blood and have an ancestor on either the Dawes rolls or the United Keetoowah Band Base Roll, which was created in 1949. Up until about 1994, the Keetoowah also gave associate memberships to Cherokees who could not demonstrate via the rolls that they were Cherokee, and they gave associate membership folks who were famous or influential, such as Bill Clinton. Some of the associate members were given an enrollment card with a number, but these associate members could not appear on the official Keetoowah tribal rolls, nor could they receive any federal benefits.

Just in case you thought membership in a Native Nation was a straightforward thing.

Currently, the trend among bands and tribes in North America is to try to limit membership. The land base and the resources that Native people control are finite. But Aboriginal populations continue to grow, and the thinking is that tribal assets should only be used for the benefit of those who are ‘authentic,’ a term that is fraught with dangerous assumptions and consequences. Among the Cherokee, you have Cherokees who are Cherokee by blood and who have an ancestor on the required rolls, and you have Cherokees who are Cherokee by blood but whose ancestors were not listed on the required rolls. The one group is ‘authentic.’ The other group is not.

To my way of thinking, such a distinction is self-serving and self-defeating at the same time.

In Canada, where First Nations people are defined by the Indian Act, there is currently no possibility for creating new Status Indians, apart from birth. Bands may grant membership to non-Status Indians and even to non-Indians, and it’s possible that these individuals could be given the right to vote in band elections and allowed to live on Indian land (though the jury is still out on the question of residency), but they could not share in any benefits that come to the tribe by way of the Indian Act or treaty.”

Page 202-206.


Book Review: Ring Shout

[Review from 2021] This book suffers from coming after Watchmen and Lovecraft Country (two other “stories” that were “created by” white men, I feel it’s important to note), to the point it could feel inspired by them rather than formed alongside them as it likely was. Lest I complain that some of these concepts are already starting to feel trite, I will say this is at least a new angle and voice from that zeitgeist. Though, a revisionist history to teach real history the same as the others. Also, allegorical. I won’t rehash a synopsis that you can just Google, but I do want to point out that it references and intertwines the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in its plot points. It features the first Black Freedman character (Choctaw, to be exact) I have ever read in a fiction, especially an SF novel, let alone the first time I’ve ever seen a novel to acknowledge that some tribes owned slaves that I can remember. I think that’s a big deal. However, it does suffer from a bit of a “sacred Native American ground” trope that is forgivable only because it’s not a burial ground. The message from the text itself explores ways that white people suffer from racism/hate as well which I think it does better than any listed so far. Also, has a slight, if unintentional, pro-vegan message in the vein of [what I know about] Aph Ko’s _ Racism as Zoological Witchcraft_. On another note, I love the way the author writes. The syntax is full of movement and every sentence is an act even when it’s not. Going to be one of the best books of my year from me!

Book Review: Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band by Christian Staebler, Sonia Paoloni, Thibault Balahy (Illustrations)

Graphic novel…nonfiction.

Didn’t know much about this band before reading. Was a quick read and good for historical contexts. Probably would get more out of it if you’re into music. Content warning, though: graphic violence, depictions of genocide.





Book Review: Claiming Tribal Identity: The Five Tribes and the Politics of Federal Acknowledgment

This book is more so about entire tribes claiming Native identity over an individual doing so (Circe Strum perhaps covers “the individual” aspect of identity better in her work if you’re interested in that more, though she doesn’t really cover the de-enrolled, which is a topic I am still looking for better scholarship on…). While this is a largely objective examination, Miller seems to focus only on tribes that have have what one might call the “most legitimate” claims to federal recognition (again, Strum probably covers the “fake” or “least legitimate claims the best). Miller does seem to, by default, side/rest with federally recognized tribes like the Five Tribes who are sometimes seen as the most colonized (and also seen as even inflicting assimilation on other tribes), though Miller clearly sympathizes with some unrecognized tribes highly covered in this work (like the Lumbee, which I knew the most about and the MOWA, which I knew nothing about) that are still seeking or who recently sought federal recognition. The “older” federally recognized tribes (that incorporated “European notions of citizenship and nationhood” the most), Miller says, are judged if their culture doesn’t seem “frozen in time” or for not being “traditional” enough. For rebuttal to this, Miller says that tribes have always “evolved” and that, basically, we should not judge them for it (the assumption being that non-federally recognized tribes tend to judge them alongside the dominate settler state). However, accepting that federally recognized tribes are sovereign and can therefore set their own requirements (at least to some degree), Miller does not seem very imaginative in critiquing what they have chosen. There are some European “nationhoods” better than others, one might fathom. But perhaps that is another book or a book per tribe, as it would be hard to lump them all together. I really recommend this book if you are interested in the federal recognition process, which I had little insight on before now. Pages have quotes I found most interesting.

Below are some quotes I wanted to archive here:

“There are 566 Indian tribes, bands, and Alaska Native villages recognized by the BIA, and no one could be expected to know the name of every one.” Pg5

“What is often lost in the critiques of the Federal Acknowledgement Process is the fact the leaders of the Five Tribes and other Indian nations do not see it as an entirely foreign, nonaboriginal regimen. They were actively engaged in its creation during the 1970s, and they continue to support the process because they view it as the best method available to determine which groups are viable indigenous nations today. By supporting the government process, Five Tribes leaders are engaging in an ongoing Native project that seeks new ways to define their peoples using both precontact, “traditional” measures and criteria borrowed from the dominant, Euro-American society. Ventures that seek to delineate and measure “Indianness” and “tribes” are no less troublesome from the tribal persepective. However, how native leaders perceive unrecognized individuals and groups is important to understanding modern Indian identity. The Five Tribes and related groups have exerted their sovereignty by extending government relations to formerly unrecognized tribes in the Southeast. They have also chosen to withhold recognition to groups they feel are inauthentic. While they support the process of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribal leaders us their own definitions and “ways of seeing” when making these decisions. Their criteria generally represent a complex mixture of indigenous and non-Indian notions of ethnicity and authenticity. The Five Tribes and other long-recognized Native nations have always been actively engaged in tribal acknowledgement debates. Today they have important reasons for remaining involved. Recognition politics involving established tribes, unrecognized communities, and non-Indians exposes the fundamental truth about ethnic and racial identities: they are constantly evolving and negotiated.” Pg 7

“Confusing the matter is the fact that there are three often-conflicting definitions at play: American Indians are the only people defined as an ethnic group, a racial group, and by reference to membership in a recognized tribe (politically). Many individuals do not comprehend the distinctions. Because of the confusion, the Five Tribes and others came to demand citizenship in a federally recognized tribe as the gold standard for Indian identification.” Pg 13

“A host of scholars – many of whom, like Deloria, have aided petitioning tribes – support the ‘small pie’ theory. They believe that government definitions of Indians and tribes are simply part of the old colonial order, set to ‘divide and conquer’ Native peoples. These scholars see these government definitions as overreliant on nonindigenous models of tribalism, blood quantum, government rolls and censuses. Many of them call upon tribes and Native peoples to undertake decolonization projects, imploring Indian leaders to pursue a new acknowledgment agenda, on that is more inclusive and less based on national imperatives and Western epistemologies of race, history, empiricism, and science. The most accepted scholarly position, which has been called the ‘liberal-inclusive’ model for identifying tribes and Indian individuals, implies that the vast majority of unrecognized Indian groups and individuals are worthy of acknowledgment. This acknowledgment is not forthcoming, they say, due to a host of factors, including federal neglect, inadequate Euro-American recordkeeping, racism, and opposition from established tribes. Scholars who take this position find it shameful that marginal, unacknowledged aboriginal peoples are languishing today. Certain individuals within this loosely defined ideological school argue that officials should rely not on the current restrictive policy, but upon self-identification, community acceptance, and state recognition.” Pg 16

“In existing writings about federally recognized tribes and their engagement with tribal acknowledgment politics, a palpable theme is clear: presently recognized nations are not acting the ‘Indian way’ when they refuse to acknowledge their less fortunate Indian relatives and share with them. To many writers, federally recognized tribal leaders are so ensconced in the hegemonic colonial order that they are no even aware that they are replicated and reinforcing it inequities. According to this line, because the Five Tribes and related groups like the Mississippi Band of Choctaws and the Eastern Band of Cherokees have embraced nonindigenous notions of ‘being Indian’  and tribal citizenship using federal censuses such as the Dawes Rolls and blood quantum they are not being authentic. Some critics charge that modern tribes like the Choctaw Nation have rejected aboriginal notions and conceptions of Indian social organization and nationhood. This thinking, however, seems to me to once again reinforce stereotypes about Indians as largely unchanging, primordial societies. The fact that the Creek and Cherokee Nations have evolved and adopted European notions of citizenship and nationhood is somehow held against them in tribal acknowledgment debates. We hear echoes of the ‘Noble Savage’ idea once again. In other context when tribes have demanded a assay in controlling their cultural property and identities – by protesting Indian sports mascots or the marketing of cars and clothing with their tribal names, or by arguing that studios should hire real Indians as actors – these actions are applauded. However, when these occur in tribal recognition contexts, the tribes are viewed as greedy or racists. The unspoken theme is that tribes are not actin gin the ‘traditional’ Indian way…With their cultures seen as frozen in time, the more tribes deviate from popular representation, the more they are seen as inauthentic. To the degree that they are seen as assimilated (or colonized and enveloped in the hegemonic order), they are also seen as inauthentic, corrupted, and polluted. The supreme irony is that when recognized tribes demand empirical data to prove tribal authenticity, critics charge that they are not being authentically ingenious by doing so.” Pg 18

“After the removal era initiated officially in 1830 and the Seminole Wars of the 1840s, most Americans had the misperception that not Indians remained in the Southeast. Small communities of Indians persisted, however. Largely hidden in isolated pockets of their former homelands, southeastern Indians struggled ot survive, both physically and cultural, in the harsh social an political climate of the nineteenth century South. The groups that remained found refuge in generally undesired places: mountain hollows, swamps, costal marshes and pine-barrens were their homes…Most communities had intermarried with non-Indians and faced challenges to their racial status as Indians—local and state politicians repeated questioned their tribal acknowledgment and tried to break up their reservations.”pg30

“The manner in which Indians have been recorded, tracked, and identified has also worked against establishing concrete tribal identities. Lacking a relationship with the federal government, these groups do not posses associated reservation records, tribal rolls, and recorded blood degrees that often help modern tribes prove their indigenousness. The work of U.S. census takers also clouds the waters. Until 1960, when self-identification became the rule, census Bureau instructed enumerators to use their own judgement to identify the supposed race of residents. This was most often based on the testimony of respondents or the visual judgement of the census taker. Neither was scientific, and this was hardly foolproof, yet these record would prove important for groups trying to establish tribal recognition.” Pg35

“As historian Theda Perdue and anthropologist Jack Campisi have noted separately, the closing of all-Indian schools created a crisis for southeastern Indians. When institutions like the East Carolina Indian School in Sampson County, North Caroline, locked its doors, a symbol of Indian pride, independence, and identity was closed as well. Despite the negative publicity surrounding integration, some silver lining soon appeared. The loss of schools prompted many groups to establish formal tribal entities in place of old board of education and related committees.” Pg 49

“Just as the Five Tribes and others were formalizing their tribal governments and running their own programs, legal aid groups were helping nonrecognized tribes do the same: the two were on a collision course. One result was the Federal Acknowledgment Process, establsiehd within the BIA in 1978. Its rigorous criteria and evaluation process reflected the desires of the Five Tribes and many other reservation tribes to have a stringent regimen, on that protected their rights, economic resources, and overall ability to define ‘Indians” and “tribes.” Throughout these debates pulsed questions of “authenticity” and being “real” or “bona fide” Indians and tribes. While academics and unrecognized tribes questioned the ability of any party to accurately define “Indian” and “tribe,” as a practical political and cultural matter tribes and their federal allies groped toward a way to measure and define these highly problematic terms. By 1978 leaders of federally recognized tribes felt they had found the answer in the new Federal Acknowledgment Process, with many unrecognized groups agreeing that finally a way had been found to determine what group were “real” tribes.” Pg 87

“The final roll listed 2,956 Cherokees still living in the Southeast, with the majority concentrated around today’s Eastern Cherokee reservation in western North Carolina, but hundreds of others were scattered in surrounding states, many of whom the North Carolina group insisted were non-Indians…

…Those people who entered tribal rolls by legal maneuver were called ‘court citizens’ by the Indians…These dubious enrollees, with rights secured, often then led the charge to destroy the tribal governments and Indian way of life. Through this tumultuous, fraudulent process, the claims were so substantial that the Cherokees ended up running out of land for real Cherokee people.” Pg 91

“Soon the Cherokees of Oklahoma under appointed principal chiefs J.B. Milam and W.W. Keeler found their land claim challenged by a group calling itself the Old Settler Cherokees. Descendants of the first group of Cherokees to emigrate west of the Mississippi prior to the Trail of Tears, some of the Old Settler Cherokees filed suit with the ICC separate from the larger Cherokee Tribe. The Department of the Interior solicitor ultimately determined that this entity had been incorporated into the larger Cherokee Nation in the 1830sand was precluded from filing suit independently.” Pg107

“A host of scholars who have studied surviving southeastern Indian groups conclude that few if any of these peoples possess cultures that do not bear the mark of significant contact with nonindigenous societies. Even the most “traditional,” such as the Seminoles of Florida, whom Nancy O.  Lurie describes as “Contact-Traditional,” were significantly altered from precolonial days by the time pioneer “salvage” ethnologists described their cultural traits and created laundry lists that have since become benchmarks for defining aboriginal culture in the region. To many more traditional reservation-based groups, having surviving Indian cultural traits is extremely important to proving authenticity, although they are not required for acknowledgement via the BIA process. The existence of surviving Indian cultural traits is highly persuasive to most observers in proving that a group still exists as a viable tribal community.” Pg163

“Some tribes maintain blood quantum, such as once-quarter proven blood degree from their tribe. Even so-called purely ‘descendancy’ tribes such as the Five Tribes with no blood quantum requirement jealously guard some proven, documentary link by blood to distant ancestors. More than any single BIA requirement, however, this criterion has proven troublesome for southeastern groups because of its reliance on on-Indian records and the confused (and confusing) nature of surviving documents.”Pg 172

“They were ‘half breeds,’ ‘mongrel races,’ and ‘mixed-bloods.” These individuals and families may have gravitated to frontier areas or to mixed-race communities that were more welcoming of their heritage. They too kept traditions of their Indian lineage alive, yet the fact that they assimilated into existing, non-tribal  (if also nonwhite) communities leads to the same conclusion as the white-Indian individuals mentioned: it could hardly be said that these mixed Indian, black, and white communities were tribes. Because of stereotypes, however, it is easer to view these impoverished, marginal enclaves as Indian. The basic facts pertinent to tribal recognition are the same: thousands of individuals left tribal communities in the nineteenth century, and their descendants cannot now make a convincing case to be aboringal Indian tribes.” Pg 239

“As principal chief Chad Smith told me, many people saying they are Cherokee likely have some ancestry. However, their ancestors ‘expatriated from the nation’ and renounced their tribal ties by failing to travel west on the Trail of Tears. The cost of that decision is that their descendants cannot now claim citizenship. Cherokee Nation Supreme Court justice Troy Wayne Poteete further emphasizes the often emotion, group kindship nation of the issue, fine details often missed by non-Indians claiming Indian status. ‘Our issue is no our ancestors had so little to pass on to us. We lost 90 percent of what we had. What they were able to pass on to us was a unique legal status, as well as a distinct culture and heritage.’”Pg301

“Ideally, leaders of the Five Tribes would exercise their sovereignty and be the governments that recognize groups that claim to be their blood kin. However, political and legal realities intervene: only the federal government can recognize that a ‘government-to-government’ relationship exists between it and forgotten Indian communities scattered about the country. As such, the Five Tribes and other reservation groups helped establish the Federal Acknowledgment Process within the BIA in 1978 to determine which groups were still living indigenous communities.” Pg365

“It is no surprise that the Five Tribes, longtime leaders in remaining Native while assimilating nonindigenous ways, are leading the crusade to define Native people sin the United States today. They are demanding the power to say who is Indian, rather than having the ‘white man’ do it for them.” Pg 368

Quote from: “The incomplete education of American Jews” on Vox

There’s a lot of scorn for liberal Zionism out there, and there’s a sense that you have to choose between being an anti-Zionist or a Zionist and that being a Zionist has to mean that you 100 percent agree with Israeli government policy. First, that’s just not true, that you have to pick one or the other. But second, I actually am on the side of saying that we should not be talking about Zionism anymore, at all. Zionism was a movement that created the state of Israel, with all of the footnotes that you need. Yes, the creation of the state of Israel was also the Nakba, and Jews and Palestinians experienced that extremely differently.

But now we’re in a situation where the movement ended; now we have a country. There’s some language on the far left that says Israel isn’t a real place. But Israel is an actual country, it’s a member of the United Nations, whether you like it or not, whether you think it should have been created or not. It’s not an idea, it’s not a movement.

The US is a country that was also birthed in bloodshed, that has 400 years of the sin of slavery in its past, as well as the genocide of Native Americans. I don’t think anybody is seriously suggesting that everybody in the United States who is not Native American or descended from people who were enslaved get up and leave.

I think the question is: What kind of reparations are possible and what kind of reparations are necessary in order to achieve that path? I think that’s the same question we should be asking about Israel: How do we move forward in a way that will guarantee the human rights of everybody in the region, including Jews, including Palestinians? And human rights include citizenship in a country. How does that include reparations? How does Israel come to terms with the Nakba without telling 7 million people to get up and go back to Poland or Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever they came from?

from Vox

Book Review: The Great Vanishing Act: Blood Quantum and the Future of Native Nations

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A lot of this book was what I was expecting: how blood quantum is a colonial concept never meant to help tribes, how the base rolls used to calculate it are racist and lacking, how even when tribes don’t have blood quantum members are still racialized, etc. But a lot of this book presented new aspects that I was not expecting. For one, I never realized how complicated the Indian Child Welfare Act can get—how it can influence some of the most unexpected things, like whether or not you could donate your eggs or donate sperm as an Indigenous person. The worst is that it can actually work against children who do not meet blood quantum requirements, allowing children to be removed from a tribe they grew up in but are not necessarily an official recognized member of. The Act goes against the very children it tries to protect (because of tribal decisions of exclusion). Another aspect that was new to me is the view of membership outside of citizenship, how they could be two different levels of tribal belonging. Many essays push up against the fact that tribes can have citizenship without borders—how they are viewed as nations within nations instead of functioning on their own/how they essentially still work under a guardianship model. Blood quantum seems to consume/override many creative ways of inclusion and ways of being. This book is good for perspectives on many tribes, though I don’t think I agree with all the authors here 100% of the time. Many of the essays conflict with each other in this same fashion.

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Some quotes from the book I want to highlight:

“Yet blood quantum has so thoroughly permeated ideas of race and citizenship in Indian Country that even the most common alternative to the blood quantum system – enrollment by lineal descent –largely adheres to the same racial logic. The Cherokee Nation, for example, grants citizenship based not on degree of Cherokee blood but on the ability to prove biological descent from an individual listed as Cherokee by blood on the Dawes Rolls generated in the late nineteenth century. Importantly, this reckoning excludes thousands of Cherokee Freedmen, the descendants of African slaves whose history within Cherokee society traces back to the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Configuring identity on the basis of descendent recycles the concepts of indigeneity as biology and posits that sociocultural belonging in Indian Country – along with ties and claims to Indigenous lands – is on some level transmitted genetically.

…How can we explain the persistence of blood quantum as a mechanism for determining tribal membership in a way that does not shame or blame the colonized? Critics of blood quantum such as Joanne Barker have pointed out that the practice indirectly works to destroy Indigenous nations by creating a dilemma of identity: Native nations must either racialize themselves or risk losing recognition as ‘authentic’ Indians. This colonial double bind leaves Indigenous communities to exemplify notions of authenticity that are not entirely of their making, yet have become central to Native self-identity. This painful situation is exacerbated by the fact that the system of racial registration – along with the unscientific notion that race and purity even exist as biological realities – is a remnant from an era of eugenics and theories of white racial superiority.

…So long as blood quantum alone confers citizenship, Indian Country will remain bound to an enrollment system that reifies biological categories that were originally founded upon the hierarchical presumption of white supremacy.” – Doug Kiel, ‘Bleeding Out: Histories and Legacies of ‘Indian Blood.’’


“Historically, federal policy to determine who is Indigenous goes back to those first counts of our people during the early wars and Indian Agent period in the latter half of the 1800’s. It was a military process in which they needed to count, and name, our people and place them on reservations, or in prisons/forts, or to forcibly remove them to some remote reservation. These initial lists are called base rolls and create the baseline for subsequent membership or citizenship determinations. The individuals on the initial base rolls are artificially considered to be full-blooded or 100% of a particular tribe. However, these base rolls were created to during the time of intense wars and conflict. Our people had been subjected to capture by the military, others had to flee to other locations, some were forcibly removed to remote localities. These base rolls are based on an arbitrary process of issuing our people a number, a new name (because they couldn’t understand our real names in our own languages), and an identity. It fails to take into consideration that our peoples have always been fluid, and we moved about, traded, and intermingled with other tribes throughout our history.” –Debra Harry, “Decolonizing Colonial Constructions of Indigenous Identity: A Conversation between Debra Harry and Leonie Pihama”


“The overwhelming majority of Cherokees did not hold any slaves at all. The 1835 census indicated about 1,600 slaves held by Cherokees in the years just prior to the forced removal, the Trail of Tears of 1838-39. One claim often heard by freedmen descendants is that their ancestors, too, were on the Trail of Tears. However, the wealthier slaveholding families did not subject themselves or their slaves to the hardships of removal. They had the means to remove independently and in greater comfort, and they did. About ¾ of the slaves immigrated to the Indian Territory with these families previous to the Trail of Tears. The ¼ who were on the trail, about 400 people among the 16,450 Cherokees who were also removed, were those who were owned as one or two by the smaller subsistence households who had no means to transport either themselves or their slaves more comfortably. These 400 indeed suffered the same rigors of the march as the Cherokees, but it’s very difficult to know exactly which ones they were or who their specific descendants are.” – Julia Coates, “Race and Sovereignty”


“Lineal descent does not de-emphasize biology. It emphasizes it differently, making a distant relative more like to stand for social relations.” – Kim TallBear, “Twentieth Century Tribal Blood Politics: Policy, Place, Descent”


“In short, Tribes should use membership in disregard of the Tribe’s jurisdictional boundaries, and that membership could and maybe should be based on blood quantum – jus sanguinis. However, Tribes must evolve a citizenship model for those who are born or who at least reside inside the Tribe’s jurisdictional boundaries, regardless of whether the person is a ‘member’ or not, regardless of that person’s blood quantum. Instead, the contours of such citizenship can be determined by birthplace, a minimum residency requirement, and cultural proficiency. And it must have civic relations, responsibilities, and participatory rights as its benchmarks.” – Richard Monette, “Blood Quantum: Fractionated Land, Fractionated People”

‘that’s because, as the website warns you, the technology isn’t yet advanced enough to tell you whether you’re part Navajo or part Sioux. ‘

“The logic is on vivid display in a TV ad for featuring a woman named Kim who pays her money, gets her DNA scan, and is thrilled to discover that she’s 23-percent Native American. Now, she says while standing in front of some culturally appropriative pottery, “I want to know more about my Native American heritage.” If the choice of southwest-style cultural artifacts seems a little arbitrary, that’s because, as the website warns you, the technology isn’t yet advanced enough to tell you whether you’re part Navajo or part Sioux. But, of course, that arbitrariness is less puzzling than the deployment of any artifacts at all. The point of Kim’s surprise is that she has no Native American cultural connection whatsoever; the point of those pots is that they become culturally appropriate only when they’re revealed to be genetically appropriate.”

[Read the rest]

See also: DNA testing cannot confirm Native American Ancestry: PSA

Betsey Sutton

Betsey Sutton, my ancestor, on 1835 Cherokee Census. Copy.

This was sent to me by the person who maintains this page. It was sent to him by another family member.

betsey sutton Cherokee Census 1835

Here is a chapter from The Genealogy of John Sutton, Sr. of Cocke County, Tennessee and Iron County, Missouri which mentions Betsy Sutton. Here are some lists of her children and grandchildren. Both have OCR. Feel free to reach out if you have more questions about this book, as I have access to a copy.


Betsey Sutton listed on the Henderson Cherokee Roll of 1835. Believed to have died on the trial of tears. Image from Cherokee Roots Vol. 1 Eastern Cherokee Rolls. ISBN #0-9633774-1-8

Pages of relevance from Harvest Time (you can search through the book as well, though limited, on Google Books). 

Harvest Time Betsey Sutton

DNA testing cannot confirm Native American Ancestry: PSA

‘DNA tests are great at demonstrating genetic relationships, even some that go back tens of thousands of years, but they can’t confirm whether or not someone has Native ancestors, according to experts. Professor Kim Tallbear, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, offered a 47-tweet explanation of the issue on Tuesday after a failed Republican candidate claimed otherwise. Companies that offer genetic tests will never be able to pinpoint a person’s specific or even general tribal heritage, she wrote.”It’s unreasonable for scientists to conceive of tribe-specific markers,” Tallbear wrote in one of her tweets. “‘Tribes’ mixed a lot, on their own & due to colonial policy.”But even if the companies refined their methods, a test still might not show whether someone has a Native ancestor, especially one in the distant past. The material that a person inherits from his or her parents boils down to a genetic lottery.

Read the rest. 

‘So will all of this get better as we get more sophisticated genetic tests? Or could better genetic tests help amass more data that would improve the precision of these tests? Probably not—in fact, it might get more complicated.

“Scientists who don’t know better claim that when more Natives are sampled they’ll have better data bases, i.e. more Native markers,” said Kim TallBear, professor of Native studies at the University of Alberta in a 47-tweet takedown of Brown’s remarks about Warren. “[Geneticists] think that with more markers, and greater historical-genetic resolution they’ll be able to pinpoint tribe-specific markers.” But this does not account for the fact that people are continuously moving and reproducing with other, diverse people. They mix their genetic code with other communities (as they always have, going back to the dawn of our species). If anything our DNA is getting more muddled, not more clear…

Another issue is limited and inconsistent data., for example, divides the world up into 26 genetic regions and uses just 115 samples to create the representative of each region—a very small sample size. And different companies place different weight on these samples, which come from burial grounds, modern isolated communities, and academically published data, like the Human Genome Diversity Project. For the consumer, this means if you don’t like your heritage results, try a different company. You’ll get a completely different breakdown.

Whether there’s any harm in people basing their identity on faulty reasoning is unclear, but the success of these commercial endeavors proves that at the very least, consumers find it kind of fun. Genetic testing is basically just a low-cost way to get a blurry picture of whom your ancestors might have been related to.

Just don’t take that picture too seriously.’

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See also, Ancestry Adventure parts 1, 2, 3.