Tribal Membership Requirements and the Demography of "Old" and "New" Native Americans
After some 400 years of population decline beginning soon after the arrival of Columbus in the Western Hemisphere, the Native American population north of Mexico began to increase around the turn of the twentieth century. The U.S. census decennial enumerations indicate a Native American population growth for the United States that has been nearly continuous since 1900 (except for an influenza epidemic in 1918 that caused serious losses), to 1.42 million by 1980 and to over 1.9 million by 1990.1 To this may be added some 740,000 Native Americans in Canada in 1986 (575,000 American Indians, 35,000 Eskimo [Inuit], and 130,000 Metis), plus some additional increase to today and perhaps 30,000 Native Americans in Greenland. The total then becomes around 2.75 million in North America north of Mexico—obviously a significant increase from the perhaps fewer than 400,000 around the turn of the century, some 250,000 of which were in the United States. However, this 2.75 million remains far less than the estimated over 7 million circa 1492 (see Thornton, 1987a). It is also but a fraction of the total current populations of the United States (250 million in 1990) and Canada (over 25 million in 1990) (see Thornton, 1994a, 1994b).
The population recovery among Native Americans has resulted in part from lower mortality rates and increases in life expectancy as the effects of "Old World" diseases and other reasons for population decline associated with colonialism have diminished (see Thornton, 1987a; Snipp, 1989). For example, life expectancy at birth increased from 51.6 years in 1940 to 71.1 years in 1980, compared with an increase from 64.2 to 74.4 years among whites during the same period (Snipp, 1989). The population recovery has also resulted from adaptation through intermarriage with non-native peoples and changing fertility patterns during the twentieth century, whereby American Indian birth rates have remained higher than those of the average North American population. In 1980, for example, married American Indian women aged 35 to 44 had a mean number of children ever born of 3.61, in comparison with 2.77 for the total U.S. population and only 2.67 for whites. Intermarried American Indian women generally had lower fertility rates in 1980 than American Indian women married to American Indian men; however, intermarried American Indian women still had higher fertility than that of the total U.S. population (Thornton et al., 1991).
"Old" And "New" Native Americans
The twentieth-century increase in the Native American population reflected in successive U.S. censuses can also be attributed to changes in the identification of individuals as "Native American." Since 1960, the U.S. census has relied on self-identification to ascertain an individual's race. Much of the increase in the American Indian population—excluding Eskimo (Inuit) and Aleuts—from 523,591 in 1960 to 792,730 in 1970 to 1.37 million in 1980 to over 1.8 million in 1990 resulted from individuals not identifying themselves as American Indian in an earlier census, but doing so in a later one.2 One might estimate, for example, that these changes in identification account for about 25 percent of the population "growth" of American Indians from 1960 to 1970, about 60 percent of the "growth" from 1970 to 1980, and about 35 percent of the ''growth" from 1980 to 1990 (see Passel, 1976; Passel and Berman, 1986; Thornton, 1987a; Harris, 1994;
Eschbach, 1995).3 Why did this occur? The political mobilization of Native Americans in the 1960s and 1970s, along with other ethnic pride movements, may have removed some of the stigma attached to a Native American racial identity. This would be especially true for persons of mixed ancestry, who formerly may have declined to disclose their Native American background for this reason. Conversely, however, individuals with only minimal Native American background may have identified themselves as Native American out of a desire to affirm a marginal ethnic identity and their "romanticized" notion of being Native American (see, for example, Eschbach, 1995).
Tribal Membership Requirements
Many different criteria may be used to delimit a population. Language, residence, cultural affiliation, recognition by a community, degree of "blood," genealogical lines of descent, and self-identification have all been used at some point in the past to define both the total Native American population and specific tribal populations. Of course, each measure produces a different population, and the decision about which variables to use in defining a given population is an arbitrary one. The implications of the decision for Native Americans can be enormous, however.
Native Americans are unique among ethnic and racial groups in their formal tribal affiliations and in their relationships with the U.S. government. Today, 317 American Indian tribes in the United States are legally recognized by the federal government and receive services from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1993). (There are some tribes recognized by states but not by the federal government.) In addition, there are some 125-150 tribes seeking federal recognition and dozens of others that may do so in the future (U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, personal communication).4
Contemporary American Indians typically must be enrolled members of one of the 317 federally recognized tribes to receive benefits from either the tribe or the federal government. To be considered enrolled members, they must in turn meet various criteria for tribal membership, which vary from tribe to tribe and are typically set forth in tribal constitutions approved by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Once recognized as members, individuals are typically issued tribal enrollment (or registration) numbers and cards that identify their special status as members of a particular American Indian tribe.
The process of enrollment in a Native American tribe has historical roots that extend back to the early nineteenth century. As the U.S. government dispossessed native peoples, treaties established specific rights, privileges, goods, and money to which those party to a treaty—both tribes as entities and individual tribal members—were entitled. The practices of creating formal censuses and keeping lists of names of tribal members evolved to ensure an accurate and equitable distribution of benefits. Over time, Native Americans themselves established more formal tribal governments, including constitutions, and began to regulate their membership more carefully, especially with regard to land allotments, royalties from the sale of resources, distributions of tribal funds, and voting. In the twentieth century, the U.S. government established additional criteria for determining eligibility for such benefits as educational aid and healthcare. The federal government also passed the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, under which most current tribes are organized. These tribes typically have written constitutions that contain a membership provision (Cohen, 1942).5 Generally, these constitutions were either first established or, if already in place, modified after the act of 1934.
A variety of court cases have tested tribal membership requirements. From the disputes, American Indian tribal governments have won the right to determine their own membership: "The courts have consistently recognized that in the absence of express legislation by Congress to the contrary, an Indian tribe has complete authority to determine all questions of its own membership" (Cohen, 1942:133).6
Individuals enrolled in federally recognized tribes also receive a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (referred to as a CDIB) from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, specifying a certain degree of Indian blood, i.e., a blood quantum. The Bureau of Indian Affairs uses a blood quantum definition—generally one-fourth Native American blood—and/or tribal membership to recognize an individual as Native American. However, each tribe has its own set of requirements—generally including a blood quantum—for membership (enrollment) of individuals. Typically, blood quantum is established by tracing ancestry back through time to a relative or relatives on earlier tribal rolls or censuses that recorded the relative's
proportion of Native American blood. In such historical instances, the proportion was more often than not simply self-indicated.
Enrollment criteria have sometimes changed over time; often, the change has been to establish minimum blood quantum requirements. For instance, in 1931, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians established a one-sixteenth blood quantum requirement for those born thereafter (Cohen, 1942). Sometimes the change has been to establish more stringent requirements: the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have tightened their membership requirements since 1935 and in 1960 established that only those born with a one-quarter or more blood quantum could be tribal members (Trosper, 1976). Conversely, tribes may reduce their blood quantum requirements, sometimes even eliminating a specified minimum requirement. Cohen (1942:136) states: "The general trend of the tribal enactments on membership is away from the older notion that rights of tribal membership run with Indian blood, no matter how dilute the stream. Instead it is recognized that membership in a tribe is a political relation rather than a racial attribute."
Blood quantum requirements for membership in contemporary tribes vary widely from tribe to tribe (U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, unpublished data). Some tribes, such as the Walker River Paiute, require at least a one-half Indian (or tribal) blood quantum; many, such as the Navajo, require a one-fourth blood quantum; some, generally in California and Oklahoma, require a one-eighth, one-sixteenth, or one-thirty-second blood quantum; and many have no minimum blood quantum requirement, but require only a documented tribal lineage (see Thornton, 1987a, 1987b; Meyer and Thornton, 1991). A summary of this information is given in Table 5-1.
TABLE 5-1 Blood Quantum Requirements of American Indian Tribes by Reservation Basis and Size
Around one-fourth of American Indians in the United States live on 278 reservations (or pueblos or rancherias) or associated "tribal trust lands," according to the Census Bureau. The largest of these is the Navajo Reservation, home to 143,405 Native Americans and 5,046 non-Indians in 1990 (Thornton, 1994a).7 American Indian tribes located on reservations tend to have higher blood quantum requirements for membership than those located off reservation. As indicated in Table 5-1, over 85 percent of tribes requiring more than a one-quarter blood quantum for membership are reservation based, as compared with less than 64 percent of those having no minimum requirement. Tribes on reservations have seemingly been able to maintain exclusive membership by setting higher blood quanta, since the reservation location has generally served to isolate the tribe from non-Indians and intermarriage with them. Tribes without a reservation basis have maintained an inclusive membership by setting lower blood quanta for membership, since their populations have interacted and intermarried more with non-Indian populations.
As additionally indicated in Table 5-1, tribes with more restrictive blood quantum requirements tend to be somewhat smaller than those with less restrictive requirements, although the differences are not particularly striking. Obviously, requiring a greater percentage of American Indian blood limits the potential size of the tribal population more than requiring a smaller percentage.
In the early 1980s, the total membership of federally recognized tribes was about 900,000 (U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, unpublished data). Therefore, many of the 1.37 million individuals identifying themselves as American Indian in the 1980 census were not actually enrolled members of federally recognized tribes. In fact, only about two-thirds were. In the late 1980s, the total membership of these tribes was somewhat over 1 million (U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, unpublished data); hence, only about 60 percent of the 1.8+ million people identifying themselves as
American Indian in the 1990 census were actually enrolled in a federally recognized American Indian tribe (Thornton, 1987b, 1994a).
Such discrepancies vary considerably from tribe to tribe. Most of the 158,633 Navajos enumerated in the 1980 census and the 219,198 Navajos enumerated in the 1990 census were enrolled in the Navajo Nation; however, only about one-third of the 232,344 Cherokees enumerated in the 1980 census and the 308,132 Cherokees enumerated in the 1990 census were actually enrolled in one of the three Cherokee tribes (the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians [of North Carolina], or the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma) (see Thornton, 1990, 1994a). Thus the Navajo Nation is the American Indian tribe with the largest number of enrolled members, but more individuals self-identifying as Native American identified themselves as "Cherokee" in the 1980 and 1990 censuses than as members of any other tribe.
Implications Of Urbanization And Intermarriage
Urbanization and associated increases in intermarriage have resulted in new threats to Native Americans in the last half of the twentieth century.
The 1990 census indicated that 56.2 percent of Native Americans lived in urban areas (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992; Thornton, 1994b). Cities with the largest Native American populations were New York City, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Tulsa, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Anchorage, and Albuquerque.
In 1900, only 0.4 percent of Native Americans in the United States lived in urban areas. This percentage increased gradually during the early decades of the century. At mid-century, still only some 13.4 percent of Native Americans in the United States lived in urban areas. During subsequent decades, however, more rapid increases in urbanization occurred; the 1980 census indicated that for the first time in history over one-half of all Native Americans lived in urban areas.
The above-described trend toward requiring low percentages of Indian blood for tribal membership and dealing with the federal government to certify it may be seen in part as a result of "a demographic legacy of 1492." As the numbers of Native Americans have declined and Native Americans have come into increased contact with whites, blacks, and others, Native American peoples have increasingly married non-Indians. As a result, they have had to rely increasingly on formal certification as proof of their Indian identity. This pattern has accelerated as urbanization has increased the numbers of non-Native Americans encountered by American Indians and other Native Americans and thus increased intermarriage
rates. Today, almost 60 percent of all American Indians are married to non-Indians (Sandefur and McKinnell, 1986; Thornton, 1987a; Snipp, 1989; Eschbach, 1995). Moreover, it has been argued that the "new Native Americans" who have changed their census self-identification, as discussed above, are more likely to be intermarried (Eschbach, 1995; see also Nagel, 1995).
Urbanization has also seemingly brought about some decreased emphasis on Native American tribal identity. For example, overall, about 20 percent of American Indians enumerated in the 1970 census reported no tribe, but only about 10 percent of those on reservations reported no tribe versus about 30 percent of those in urban areas (Thornton, 1987a). (Comparable data from the 1980 and 1990 censuses are not available; the 1980 census indicated that about 25 percent reported no tribal affiliation [Thornton, 1987a], while the figure in the 1990 census was about 15 percent [computed from data available in U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1994].) As indicated in the 1990 census, only about one-fourth of all American Indians speak an Indian language at home; however, census enumerations also indicate that urban residents are far less likely than reservation residents to speak an Indian language or even participate in tribal cultural activities (see Thornton, 1987a; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992).
If these trends continue, both the genetic and tribal distinctiveness of the total Native American population will be greatly lessened. A Native American population comprising primarily "old" Native Americans strongly attached to their tribes will change to a population dominated by "new" Native American individuals who may or may not have tribal attachments or even tribal identities. Indeed, it may make sense at some future time to speak of Native Americans mainly as people of Native American ancestry or ethnicity.
Taking into account the high rates of intermarriage, it has been projected that within the next century, the proportion of those with a one-half or more blood quantum will decline to only 8 percent of the American Indian population, whereas the proportion with less than a one-fourth blood quantum will increase to around 60 percent (see U.S. Congress, 1986). Moreover, these individuals will be increasingly unlikely to be enrolled as tribal members. Even if they are tribal members, a traditional cultural distinctiveness may be replaced by mere social membership if language and other important cultural features of American Indian tribes are lost. Certainly the total Native American population as a distinctive segment of American society will be in danger. Moreover, if individuals who identify themselves as Native American cannot meet established blood quantum enrollment criteria, they will have no rights to the associated benefits. Stricter requirements will operate to restrict the eligible Native American population, as well as, ultimately, the number of federally
recognized Native American entities. As long as reservations exist, there will undoubtedly be a quite distinct—genetically and culturally—segment of the Native American population that is very different from the total U.S. population. However, for the U.S. government, decreasing blood quanta of the total Native American population may be perceived as meaning that the numbers of Native Americans to whom it is obligated have declined.
Native American peoples in the United States (and Canada) have experienced a population recovery during the twentieth century. However, new demographic and tribal threats may be faced during the twenty-first century. Intermarriage with non-Native Americans may continue to undermine the basis of the Native American population as a distinctive racial and cultural group. In the next century, tribal membership may well be the criterion for determining who is distinctively Native American, irrespective of how that membership may be determined. Tribes with high blood quantum requirements may find themselves with a shrinking population base unless they manage to control marriages between tribal members and non-Native Americans (or even Native American non-tribal members)—or, of course, unless they lower their blood quantum requirements. Continued urbanization is likely not only to result in increased intermarriage as more and more Native Americans come in contact with non-Native peoples, but also to diminish further the identity of Native Americans as distinctive tribal peoples tied to specific geographical areas.
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