Blood Quantum Land Laws and the Race Versus Political Identity Dilemma
Rose Cuison Villazor
University of California, Davis
October 23, 2008
Modern equal protection doctrine treats laws that make distinctions on the basis of indigeneity defined on blood quantum terms along a racial versus political paradigm. This dichotomy may be traced to Morton v. Mancari and, more recently, to Rice v. Cayetano. In Mancari, the Supreme Court held that laws that privilege members of American Indian tribes do not constitute racial discrimination because the preferences have a political purpose - to further the right of self-government of federally recognized American Indian tribes. Rice crystallized the juxtaposition of the racial from the political nature of indigeneity by invalidating a law that privileged Native Hawaiians. That law, according to the Court, used an ancestral blood requirement to construct a racial category and a racial purpose as opposed to the legally permissible political purpose of promoting the right of self-government of American Indian tribes.
Close analysis of the dichotomy between the constitutive notion of indigenous blood as either racial or political has largely escaped scholarship. An analysis deconstructing their juxtaposition is sorely needed. As recent challenges to blood quantum laws show, there remain unanswered questions about the extent to which the racialized (and thus invalid) Native Hawaiian-only voting law impact other blood quantum laws. Among the laws implicated by the dichotomy between the racial and political meaning of indigeneity are land ownership laws that privilege indigenous peoples who are not federally recognized tribes. Specifically, in some jurisdictions in the United States, including Hawaii, Alaska, and the U.S. territories, only indigenous peoples may purchase or possess property. Perhaps more problematically, these property laws define indigeneity on the basis of blood quantum. Under the contemporary race versus political meaning of blood quantum, these laws arguably violate equal protection principles because they do not fit the current framing of what constitutes political indigeneity.
Using these laws, what I collectively refer to as blood quantum land laws, as frames of reference, this Essay interrogates and criticizes the juxtaposition of the racial and political meaning of indigeneity. Specifically, the Essay examines the legal construction of political indigeneity and demonstrates how its narrowed construction would undermine these blood quantum land laws that were enacted to reverse the effects of colonialism. Consequently, this Essay calls for the liberalization of the binary racial and political paradigm by expanding equal protection law's interpretation of the meaning of political indigeneity. Toward this end, this Essay provides an initial analysis of how to broaden the political notion of indigeneity, focusing in particular on the relationships among property, indigeneity, and the right to self-determination.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 38
Date posted: October 28, 2008