Blood Degree

Do I regard myself as a Native American? Emphatically yes!

I treasure my Potawatomi heritage and the rich history and accomplishments of our Tribe.

As your Legislator I am working to assure that we preserve our traditions and enhance the opportunities for CPN members around the country to learn and then teach their children and grandchildren our traditions and values.

Below is a piece written by another CPN member, Miccki Langston, that eloquently expresses my views about identifying as a Native American and about what we as a Native people can contribute. Miccki posted it to Native Cultures in 2005, where I found it and was inspired by it. I had the pleasure to meet Miccki at our Family Reunion Festival in June 2008 and thank her for her piece.


When I tell people that I am Potawatomi (of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation), I often receive a questioning, even confused look, sometimes accompanied by something like, "Well, you're obviously not full blooded. How much Native American are you?"

I don't really blame them for asking. If you judge race or evidence of ancestral origin on the basis of things like skin color, I don't seem to fit the bill. My ancestral origin, like many Americans, includes European strains...mine are primarily French and German.

So I'd like to share the stand that my particular tribe (included in 9 of the 10 largest federally recognized Native American nations who share this view) has on this question.

My tribe accepts enrollment of tribal members based on descendancy from an enrolled tribal member, no matter what their assigned blood degree. Many other Native American tribes have standards of blood degree for membership - usually 1/4 or 1/8. The reason for our more open stand?

Because the “blood degree” was created by the BIA to “eliminate the Indian threat.” If it becomes impossible to trace your ancestry, it is impossible to make a claim regarding any treaty made with the US. This method has been used by colonialists for centuries. (“If we breed them out, there won't be any left.”)

When the first records of tribal members were began in the 1700's, the determination of “blood degree” was made by Anglo officials who made this judgment based on skin color and “'native appearance.” This meant that children or grandchildren were sometimes judged to be full blooded when their parents were not...simply because they had darker skin or looked more “Indian,” (many times a function of who worked out in the sun).

So our Nation rejects the “'blood degree” issued to us by the BIA as arbitrary. I am considered by my tribe to be 100% Potawatomi, as is every enrolled member, no matter what blood-degree we have been assigned by the BIA.

One interesting side point about this is that this questions is also unique to the Native American community. You don't ask someone who says they are Mexican American, "How much Mexican are you?" or someone who is African American, "How much African are you, really?"

One thing I've learned in the past few years is how other native people view this stand. For many, this seems to be a violation of the traditions and values of native people. Some are insulted by what they see as “wannabe's” attempting to make illegal claims...for financial or other gain.

Anyone who knows the state of native economics would understand that the “financial gain” from being native (whether from the US government or from the earnings of tribal enterprise) are not significant (this is a whole other issue that could be discussed).

It is intimidating to face the seriousness (and sometimes viciousness) with which some natives approach this issue. So it begs the question for me: What do I want to accomplish by self-identifying as Native American?

It is not simply a matter of racial identification. It is not to create a division between me and others who are not native. If that were the only thing that happened, I wouldn't say anything about being Potawatomi. It's also more than just producing “purer” Potawatomi babies. I think our contribution is more than simply a set of genes.

Briefly put, my purpose is to help my native community (and the larger native community as a whole) discover and create their place in our society NOW. To empower native people to embrace and share their traditions and values. To be leaders in creating a world that works for people. To move beyond being suppressed and victimized. To have pride in being native - not because we're better or stronger or older or entitled . . . but because we have many things of value to contribute. Because there is ancient and sacred knowledge of love, people and God to share.

I hope this makes sense. This is a complex issue that I have still not sorted out for myself. But that's where I want to look. What's next? What is my place in all of this?