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African-Native American Research Forum Archive

Re: Documentation of Native American Ancestery

only one ethnological definitions and many legal definitions. Different laws use many definitions. Some federal laws define an Indian as anyone of Indian descent while other laws require one-fourth or one-half Indian blood in order to be considered an Indian for purposes of those laws. Then again some other federal laws define Indian as anyone who has been accepted as a member of a "federally recognized" Indian tribe.

Many federal laws use the word "Indian" without defining it. This allows federal agencies to decide who is an Indian under those laws. Some agencies have been accused of defining Indian too narrowly thereby depriving people of benefits that Congress intended them to receive. When Congress has not defined the term courts have used a two-part test to determine who is an Indian. First the person must have some Indian blood that is some identifiable Indian ancestry. Second the Indian community must recognize this person as an Indian.

These varying legal standards have caused confusion and inconsistency. Example a person may qualify as an "Indian" for educational benefits and not qualify for health benefits. The Census Bureau takes a simple approach to these problems. The bureau lists EVERY person as an Indian who claims to be one.

Each Indian tribe has eligibility requirements for enrollment. Most tribes require that a person have at least one-fourth tribal blood to become a member. Some tribes require as much as one-half tribal blood while others require one-sixteenth. Although these requirements determine tribal membership they DO NOT necessarily determine who is an Indian for other purposes. TO BE CONSIDERED AN INDIAN FOR FEDERALLY PURPOSES AN INDIVIDUAL MUST HAVE SOME INDIAN BLOOD. A non-Indian who is adopted into an Indian tribe is NOT an Indian under federal law. HOWEVER under certain federal laws small amounts of Indian blood together with recognition as an Indian by the Indian community will qualify a person as an Indian.

The fact that the federal government does not recognize a person as an Indian does not prevent a tribe from considering that person as an Indian for tribal purposes. Similarly lack of tribal membership DOES NOT prevent a person from being recognized as an Indian under MOST federal laws. MOST FEDERAL LAWS REQUIRE ONLY THAT A PESON HAVE ONE-FOURTH OR MORE INDIAN BLOOD TO BE CONSIDERED AN INDIAN. THUS A PERSON CAN HAVE MORE CAUCASIAN (BLUE BLACK OR YELLOW) BLOOD THAN INDIAN BLOOD AND STILL BE AN INDIAN FOR FEDERAL PURPOSES. LD

[posted 3 Jan 01]


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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