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Red Lake Nation population projections take center stage at listening sessions

The sessions included six scenarios detailing potential tribal membership growth or decline over the next 100 years if blood quantum requirements were to change.

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Research scientist Nicole MartinRogers addresses attendees during a Red Lake enrollment projection listening session on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer
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RED LAKE — Three years after the Red Lake Tribal Council voted to change the recorded blood quantum of tribal members on the 1958 base roll to a 4/4 blood degree, or full blood, the nation is discussing possible action to further strengthen its membership for years to come.

During some enrollment projection listening sessions throughout Red Lake Nation and in Minneapolis Dec. 11-15, members had a chance to hear from Nicole MartinRogers, a White Earth descendant and research scientist with Wilder Research in St. Paul.

Red Lake Nation contracted with Wilder Research to produce population projections under the current tribal membership criteria, which requires that somebody has ¼ Red Lake Nation blood quantum in order to become an enrolled member.

A primary concern raised throughout the sessions is the rapid decline of the tribe’s population, particularly with younger members having lower levels of blood quantum that eventually restrict them from tribal enrollment.

Red Lake Nation Population Projections
Blood quantum distribution based on 2022 enrollment in Red Lake Nation.
Courtesy / Wilder Research

According to Indian Country Today, blood quantum is used by the United States government to track the amount of “Native blood” a person has in order to limit the size of tribal membership. Blood quantum is measured in fractions and can affect a person’s ability to be recognized as Native American by state and federal programs.

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“Red Lake Nation, like a lot of other tribes, has a trend that’s concerning,” MartinRogers said, “that younger members have lower and lower blood quantum over time.”

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Research scientist Nicole MartinRogers speaks about population projections during a Red Lake enrollment listening session on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

In 2019, Red Lake Nation chose their most recent enrollment list — the 1958 base roll — to adjust the blood quantum levels of those who were enrolled members as of Nov. 10, 1958, to full blood. Accordingly, they adjusted the blood quantum levels of children, grandchildren and so on as a first step in moving away from the blood quantum requirement.

Red Lake Tribal Secretary Sam Strong, who initiated the 2019 decision, emphasized the blood quantum concept as one that was imposed upon tribal nations during the Indian Termination Era of the 1950s and 1960s. This included a series of policies sought to assimilate Native Americans by dismantling trust relationships, relocating Native Americans to urban centers and stripping tribes of land and sovereignty.

Red Lake Nation Population Projections
Blood quantum frequencies by age of currently enrolled members of Red Lake Nation.
Courtesy / Wilder Research

Indian Country Today added that blood quantum was not a concept or strategy used to determine tribal membership pre-colonization.

“Over time, we’ve taken different looks at how we can change (blood quantum requirements),” Strong mentioned, “and this study really gives us the data that we need to make an informed decision about what’s best for all of us and the continuing lineage of our people moving forward.”

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Red Lake Tribal Secretary Sam Strong speaks during a Red Lake enrollment projection listening session on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

The scenarios

MartinRogers presented six scenarios detailing potential tribal membership growth or decline over the next 100 years if blood quantum requirements were to change.

The scenarios include:

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  • Scenario one: No changes are made to enrollment criteria, which is currently set at a threshold of ¼ Red Lake Nation blood to be eligible for enrollment.
  • Scenario two: Changes are made to enrollment criteria to allow all Chippewa and Ojibwe blood from a federally recognized American Indian tribe or Canadian First Nation to count toward the ¼ threshold to be eligible for enrollment.
  • Scenario three: Changes are made to enrollment criteria to allow blood from any federally recognized American Indian tribe or Canadian First Nations to count toward the ¼ threshold to be eligible for enrollment.
  • Scenario four: Enrollment criteria is changed to ⅛ Red Lake Nation blood to be eligible for enrollment.
  • Scenario five: Enrollment criteria is changed to allow any lineal descendant from the 1958 Red Lake base roll to be eligible for enrollment.
  • Scenario six: Same as scenario five, but using a phased approach to switch over to lineal descent over a period of 10 to 15 years.

MartinRogers noted that Wilder Research conducted a survey of Red Lake Nation members to gauge current levels of non-Red Lake blood using 3,000 randomly selected tribal adults, of which 377 responded.
Wilder Research also worked alongside Professor Carolyn Liebler from the University of Minnesota Sociology Department and Minnesota Population Center to obtain information from sources such as the United States Census Bureau and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish fertility and mortality rates to produce population projections.

“It’s important to note that population projections are guessed based on a bunch of assumptions,” MartinRogers added. “Even in the past 10 years, we can look at things like a global pandemic, opiate epidemic and a couple other things that have really changed the trajectory of populations.”

Red Lake Nation Population Projections
Blood quantum percentages by age based on enrolled Red Lake Nation members.
Courtesy / Wilder Research

Key findings

Under the current requirements, Red Lake Nation would see a potential decline from 16,000 members in 2022 to around 1,000 by 2122. Scenarios one, two and three result in population declines going into the next century.

Scenario four would result in a slight population increase through the end of the century before declining around 2097.

“You’re kind of kicking the can down the road a little bit if you switch to ⅛ to maintain the population for 100 years,” MartinRogers shared, “then that downward trend starts to happen again.”

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Research scientist Nicole MartinRogers discusses Red Lake enrollment during a projection listening session on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, in Red Lake.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Scenarios five and six do not use blood quantum and would open enrollment to any individual who was born to someone on the 1958 base roll as well as any descendants. Both would result in a steep population increase to over 60,000 members by the next century.

Scenario six would open enrollment in phases in order to help Red Lake Nation’s enrollment office and other departments manage the influx of new members over a span of 10 to 15 years. Phases would be based on the current blood quantum or age group.

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Red Lake Nation’s 2022 enrollment file details that 31% of Red Lake Nation members are ½ blood, or 5,108 citizens. This is the largest blood quantum distribution followed by full blood and ¼ blood, which each make up 24% of the population.

Next steps

As a simple stepping stone to a potential blood quantum change in the future, Strong considered the listening sessions as opportunities for meaningful dialogue and recognizing a need to grow Red Lake Nation.

He stated support for scenario six, or phased lineal descent, though he would like feedback from the tribal members before any formal decision is made.

“The next step is getting everyone on board and understanding that we have to do something. Our great-grandchildren’s lives and their identity depend on it,” Strong said. “The biggest strength we have is our people, so it’s important that we keep our membership strong not only in numbers but in the way we think and maintain that sense of cultural heritage and pride.”

No formal action by the Red Lake Tribal Council is currently planned. More information on the population projection study can be found at www.wilder.org.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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