Genealogy as Continuity: Explaining the Growing Tribal Preference for Descent Rules in Membership Governance
Posted: 3 Apr 2008
Date Written: March 31, 2008
This article presents the findings of a large-scale study of current and historic tribal membership rules contained in the constitutions of federally-recognized tribes. The constitutions of 245 tribes in the lower 48 states are surveyed. The article explains changes in membership governance by reference to changes in the political, legal and social environments of tribes, including especially shifts in federal Indian policy and tribal demography. It discusses the increasing tribal preference for lineal descent and tribal blood quantum rules, relative to older criteria such as parental enrollment, parental residence and Indian blood quantum rules. It explains that these rules are tribe-specific, in contrast to the pan-tribal measures of Indianness and Indian blood quantum used in federal law and policy, and suggests that while tribes deploy familiar administrative mechanisms, such as blood quantum, they increasingly refashion these as measures of genealogy rather than race. It further argues that these rules are a form of tribal self-help, that assist a tribe to repair disruptions in its continuity, especially those occurring as a result of the operation of termination policy.
Keywords: Indian law, tribal law, tribal enrolment, indigenous, citizenship
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