In these political times, so much gets lost in the rhetoric and the sound bites. There are so many marginalized groups that are negatively impacted by the policies of the Trump Administration, putting real lives in danger. The lives that are not talked about too much in the media are Native lives. Thanks to Congresswoman-elect Debra Haaland (NM-1) and Congresswoman-elect Sharice Davids (KS-3), the concerns that Native peoples have will be amplified, one of them being blood quantum’s place in politics; blood quantum, or how “Native” or “Indian” one is, determines whether or not a Native person will have access to certain benefits the federal government has agreed to provide Native peoples in exchange for land and other natural resources as well as access to their own natural resources.
It is not a coincidence that more tribes have needed to reconsider their blood quantums and tribal constitutions. On November 10 and 11, 2018, the Pueblo of Laguna held community forums and education sessions about how the future membership of the tribe will be determined. Currently, Laguna recognizes ¼ “Laguna blood” to be the minimum requirement for tribal membership. With tribal membership, and in some tribes, descendancy, an individual is eligible for healthcare through Indian Health Services (IHS), housing, and investments into a trust fund set up for Native folks from the time they are enrolled at their tribe, among other benefits that may vary from tribe to tribe.
Membership numbers determined by blood quantum is a double edged sword. While the healthcare and infrastructure is not always as up to date compared to surrounding communities, tribal members can still access relatively close resources, many staffed by community members. It is also used as an identifier to determine who belongs and who doesn’t belong, perpetuating lateral oppression. The purpose of blood quantum was to not only determine the extent of rights afforded someone who may have Native or Indigenous ancestry but to codify extermination. The interest the federal government and by extension, state governments, have in tribal membership is that these entities may have more access to land and other resources. The federal government passed the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which essentially pressured Native communities to have a formalized, western-style government structure and a constitution (despite being organized and self-sufficient long before European contact).
Chaco Canyon is a historical site and a religious place for many Pueblo and Navajo communities and has been within the sights of oil companies and the Trump Administration. The environmental impact it could have on families would be monumental and the state cannot sustainably operate on oil and gas. If Native communities did not exist or were not federally recognized, the arguments for cultural consultation and the respect for tribal sovereignty would not be included in the fight for renewable energy. The arguments about extraction at Mt. Taylor in 1979 had racism attached to it: “…they’re all on welfare, they use our tax dollars to demonstrate against our future.” The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against Rayellen Resources and Destiny Capital, who filed a suit that said Mt. Taylor was too big to be maintained and should not be a protected site. Acoma Pueblo, along with other tribes and allies, fought against this suit and won.
The Trump Administration has questioned the validity of providing healthcare to Native peoples through Indian Health Services and has floated the idea of a work requirement for Medicaid while denying tribes’ requests for exemptions to this new rule, insinuating that Native peoples and tribal recognition is a new race preference. Texas v. Zinke is being closely watched all over the country because the case threatens to overturn the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) which prioritizes placement of Native children within their own tribal communities– setting a dangerous precedent in the validity of Indian law and treaties between tribes and the federal government. This argument being made against ICWA is that it gives unfair preferential treatment to Native peoples, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
To think that blood quantum and membership are not intrinsically connected to extraction and land and water usage or the well being of Indigenous peoples is naive. While the concept of the blood quantum is nefarious, a constant battle for tribes nationwide, and the federal government can effectively deny recognition to a tribe, tribes do depend on membership to have any say in what happens to the well being of their people and their natural resources.
This week is Thanksgiving and it’s important to acknowledge the complicated and racist history we don’t associate with family time at the table, eating pumpkin pie. We will be celebrating “Separatists” who were fleeing “religious persecution” to impose a theocracy abroad. A fact-finding mission led by Massasoit (Wampanoag) after some settlers set off some cannons and shot some guns after a harvest led to some deer meat being shared. But tensions were still high after this incident and King Philip’s war ensued, which lasted three years. This war destroyed a dozen different Native communities. None of this is what we are taught in school; this history was whitewashed by Abraham Lincoln in his attempt to keep the peace during the Civil War, and Thanksgiving was created.
From this time on, a more rosy picture of the noble savage has been perpetuated throughout history- Natives are either the selfless peoples who shared their food and homes or they are the stubborn Indians who refuse to assimilate into modern society by giving up communal ways of living. This is a great time to educate ourselves about the unique relationships that tribes in New Mexico and nationwide have to the federal and state governments.
At ProgressNow New Mexico, we recognize that as progressives, we must work alongside Native communities to uplift the work already being done to reaffirm tribal sovereignty and hold our elected officials accountable when bills could pose a threat to the well being of Native families.