Minnesota Chippewa look at expanding blood quantum rules
DETROIT LAKES . — There could soon be more people signing up as members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.
The two-pronged resolution addresses the issue of blood quantum and the MCT’s requirement that all enrolled members born after July 3, 1961 have at least one-quarter Minnesota Chippewa Indian blood, derived from one of its six bands.
The new proposals — there are two of them that would be voted on — would change that requirement to either allow all Chippewa blood in the United States to count into the equation or to allow all Chippewa blood both in the U.S. and in Canada to count.
This would, for instance, mean that if a member of the MCT married into another Ojibwe tribe outside of Minnesota, that spouse’s blood could now be recorded within the MCT as counting towards its blood quantum requirements, therefore possibly allowing for membership.
Currently, it does not count, and many “outside” Chippewa, Ojibwe, Anishinaabe and First Nations Canadians are denied membership enrollment in the MCT. This means denial of certain benefits provided to its members, including hunting and fishing on the reservations.
If approved, this more inclusionary way of determining membership would certainly mean boosted numbers for MCT enrollment, both immediately and into the future. It is seen as a way to fight an expected decline in membership as blood quantum continues to essentially get “watered down” over the generations.
Now that the MCT executive committee has passed the resolution, it goes to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. If given the green light there, a Secretarial Election (a federal election held by the BIA) will be held for all current members of the MCT to vote on the proposed changes.
Mixed reviews from White Earth
The issue of blood quantum has divided Native Americans in Minnesota for a long time, and these new proposed changes are no different.
Although both MCT Executive Committee members from White Earth — longtime Chairwoman Erma Vizenor and newly elected Secretary-Treasurer Tara Mason — seem to be in favor of more inclusion in terms of membership, they differ on these proposed amendments to the MCT.
According to Vizenor, who is against the idea of blood quantum requirements altogether, she voted against the resolution because she “supports the authority of each of the bands within the MCT to determine what is best for their membership.”
This comes on the heels of White Earth members voting to adopt their own constitution in late 2013, which recognizes membership through lineal descent, rather than through blood quantum. (White Earth has not yet adopted that new constitution in practice though, and is still abiding by the MCT laws.)
However, Vizenor believes that by putting this resolution into motion, MCT’s leadership is not respecting White Earth’s wishes of not requiring blood quantum, but rather implementing a “top-down approach” that only gives its members limited options… options that do not include getting rid of the blood quantum requirement altogether.
“So the people voting will not be allowed to choose lineal descent or any other more viable change to membership requirements other than the two proposed by the MCT Executive Committee,” said Vizenor, who adds the blood quantum requirements divide their families.
“Our families are divided enough,” said Vizenor. “It is time that we unite and continue the practices of our ancestors.”
On the other side of the issue is White Earth Secretary-Treasurer Tara Mason, who voted for the MCT’s proposed changes and is “excited” for them.
Mason isn’t just throwing her support behind this particular change, but also behind the idea of staying within the MCT constitution and changing it through the process already in place.
While she has been a big proponent of “separation of powers,” she has also been an outspoken opponent of the new White Earth Constitution. She says it goes directly against the MCT’s constitution and therefore, legally White Earth should not even be a part of the MCT anymore.
“We’d have to secede (from the MCT) because we’d be in direct conflict with it,” said Mason, who adds that isn’t what she wants, but instead she has been pushing for changing within the MCT itself.
“I believe there’s more that we can do to amend the MCT to allow for separation of powers,” said Mason. “There are things we can do without having an entirely separate constitution.”
Despite the internal disagreements on what should or should not be White Earth’s laws of the land or how to press forward, MCT leadership intends on putting its newly passed resolution to vote, pending approval by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which can happen 60 to 90 days after that approval.