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Trading Post Times

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In the world of American Indian art, buyers frequently ask, “Is this artist really American Indian?”

The answer is not as simple as it may seem, and not only puzzles the folks here at River Trading Post, but

has recently become an issue of concern to the Indian Arts and Crafts Association when it comes to accept-

ing an American Indian artist into its membership.

Why Is This A Complex Issue?

For an American Indian artist to become a member of the Indian Arts and Crafts Association (IACA), the

artist must provide tribal membership identification from

either a federal or state recognized tribe

, along with

examples of their work. The IACA membership requirements are completely in synch with the Indian

Arts and Crafts Act of 1990.

The difficulty is that federally recognized tribal membership qualifications are historically based on blood

quantum (the percentage of blood that a person has that is of that tribal origin) and requirements vary con-

siderably from tribe to tribe. For example, the Navajo Nation requires 1/4 blood quantum while the Cher-

okee Nation requires direct biological lineage to a member as listed on the

Dawes Rolls before 1906. IACA has always respected the rights of various Na-

tions to determine their own membership and honored their membership identi-


Recently however, IACA was presented with a Cherokee tribal membership

card that showed a blood quantum of 1/128 American Indian based on federal

documents and the determination of the Cherokee Nation. IACA granted

membership to this artist and recognized him as an authentic American Indian

artist as determined by federal and association regulations. But, as you can

imagine, there was a lot of head-scratching and discussion before IACA granted

his application.

A Question of Race or Ethnicity? Even the Federal Government Doesn’t Know

Many people with American Indian blood may not become an enrolled tribal member due to insufficient blood quantum. Additionally,

many people who marry outside their tribe may find that their children or grandchildren do not qualify—even though they have been

brought up to speak the language, live on tribal lands, and adhere to the customs of the tribe. There are also people who qualify, using

blood quantum, for enrollment in more than one tribe. Many of the tribes do not permit their members to enroll in more than one tribe, so

the individual (or their parent) must choose the tribe to which they will ultimately belong. Sometimes, that choice may be based on wheth-

er the tribe is patrilineal or matrilineal, sometimes it may be based on the residence of the person, or the beliefs and customs practiced by

that person. It may even be based on the relative benefits provided by the tribes.

Interestingly, census data collected by the federal government may be skewed due to the lack of definition. Many people with American

Indian blood do not carry a tribal identification card—often due to blood quantum requirements—but may self-identify as American Indi-

an and claim American Indian heritage on their census. There are also Americans, born in India, who report that they are American Indi-

an on census forms. And, a person who is 99% Anglo can claim to be American Indian, and be counted as such in census data. [Read

Standards for Race and Ethnicity at the Federal Government website at .

] This

means that the number of American Indians according to the US census will never equal the number of tribal enrollees.

The Dilemma and Challenge Continues

Federally recognized tribes are sovereign nations and are thus able to change their enrollment requirements. Many

tribes are considering eliminating the blood quantum requirement in favor of other standards such as birthplace, place

of residence or legal association such as marriage, adoption or naturalization. They feel that this more accurately re-

flects their community members than an “arbitrary” blood quantum requirement. Proponents of increasing tribal en-

rollment by changing criteria are generally trying to preserve their culture and language as blood lines become more

and more diluted, while proponents of decreasing their rolls are generally trying to limit the distribution or allocation of

benefits. (Continued on Page 3)

John Ross (1790—1866) was the

Principle Chief of the Cherokees.

He was 1/8 Cherokee and 7/8

Scotch. Ross lived nicely after

Cherokee removal to Oklahoma

and into in his Park Hill, Oklahoma

cottage. (Below) Source: PBS