Sunday, February 10, 2013

What Makes A Person Native American

I was wondering the other day, What makes a person a Native American? Is there some sort of criteria? Can anyone just call themselves a Native American because they "think' they are or because they 'want' to be because they think that label makes them 'different' or 'special'?

So I went looking and found out...

Information pulled on 2/10/2013 from 

"Who Is An Indian"
by Barbara Shining Woman Warren

"No single definition of "Indian" exists - socially, administratively, legislatively or judicially. Currently in the United States 10 to 20 million people may have Indian ancestry, but only a small percentage identify themselves as being primarily Indian. The Bureau of the Census counts anyone an Indian who declares himself or herself to be an Indian. In 1990 the Census figures showed there were 1,959,234 American Indians and Alaska Natives living in the United States (1,878,285 American Indians, 57,152 Eskimos, and 23,797 Aleuts). This is a 37.9 percent increase over the 1980 recorded total of 1,420,000. The increase is attributed to improved census taking and more self-identification during the 1990 count."

"According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, no single Federal or tribal criterion establishes a person's identity as an Indian. Government agencies use differing criteria to determine who is an Indian eligible to participate in their programs. Tribes also have varying eligibility criteria for membership. To determine what the criteria might be for agencies or Tribes, one must contact them directly."

"To be eligible for Bureau of Indian Affairs services, an Indian must (1) be a member of a Tribe recognized by the Federal Government, (2) one-half or more Indian blood of tribes indigenous to the United States (25 USC 479) ; or (3) must, for some purposes, be of one-fourth or more Indian ancestry. By legislative and administrative decision, the Aleuts, Eskimos and Indians of Alaska are eligible for BIA services. Most of the BIA's services and programs, however, are limited to Indians living on or near Indian reservations."

"There is no universally accepted definition of the term 'Indian.'........ Although there is one ethnological definition of Indian, there are many legal definitions....... 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..........The Census Bureau takes a simple approach to these problems. The bureau lists every person as an Indian who claims to be one."

So after reading this what I take from it is that anyone can call themselves Native American even if they aren't one? Does that sounds fair to those who actually are Native American? It doesn't to me. But for a person to be eligible for Bureau of Indian Affairs services a person must be a member of a tribe that is recognized by the Federal Government And also be one half or more Indian blood of a tribe indigenous to the US or be one fourth or more Indian ancestry.

So those people who have been given an 'honorary' membership into a tribe because they are liked by the people are NOT eligible for BIA services because they are not REAL Native Americans. It's like a celebrity given an "honorary" Doctorate after giving a speech for University. It's nice, but it's just a piece of paper that means nothing, it's not like you can use it on your resume because it's not didn't earn it.

I am guessing you have to be able to prove you are at least one fourth Native American and if you are one fourth that means that you have to have a grandparent who was a full blooded Native American *if I am doing my math right*

If your grandparent was a 100% Native American then one of your parents would be one half Native American and you would be one fourth Native American. So if I don't have a grandparent that was 100% Native American then I can't call myself one fourth Native American and am not eligible for BIA benefits. I find this information very interesting.

People ask others all the time what nationality or race they are and when someone says they are Native American next time maybe you'll have a better understanding of what that really means.


  1. Yeah knew most of this, as my uncle tried to get it up here.

  2. My grandmother qualifies (her father was 100% Cherokee) but she was taught to shun that part of herself, so our family has lost all of the culture and traditions :(
    I'm not saying I want to move to the reservation or anything, but it would be nice to just know a little about that part of my family history. Apparently her father disassociated himself with everything native American. I can't blame him too much, though, being married to a white woman in the 30's in Tennessee couldn't have been easy.

  3. I'm not native American so I found the information interesting. I know a lot claim to be when they are not, which is weird.

    CaroleDee, I can imagine it would have been really hard at that time.


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