xangahlda | catalyze
gudahldiyáay | Opinion
Issue of Blood Quantum
A tool that assimilates and terminates Native people
By Raven Madison (Eyak)

laska Natives have been using marine mammals for food, clothing, shelter, and other necessary uses since time immemorial. Today, the use of marine mammals by Alaska Native people is becoming an act of civil disobedience due to the verbiage used in the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) enacted in 1972. The MMPA prohibits Alaska Natives under one-quarter-blood quantum from partaking in this longtime cultural tradition. Federal laws that were enacted in the 1970s purposefully do not recognize individuals under the quarter blood quantum as Indigenous. Currently, over 60% of Alaska Native people around the Gulf of Alaska are under a quarter blood quantum. With each successive generation, Alaska Natives’ blood quantum continues to decline.

The use of blood quantum to determine a persons’ degree of Native ancestry is a construct of colonization that has been long used by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The use of blood quantum came into existence in the late 1800s when federal laws were enacted to compile lists of Indigenous people. It was a way for the government to “authenticate” how Indigenous an individual was during the allotment period between 1887 and 1934. Blood quantum was used and integrated into dividing land for individual allotments. Due to the quarter blood quantum rule many were ineligible, thereby reducing the amount of land that was given to the Indigenous people at that time. Blood quantum has always been a tool used against Native people to eventually be defined out of existence. It is the path that leads to the extinction of our people, our culture, and our traditions. 

Although blood quantum has never been a true indicator of Native identity, it continues to pose a threat to tribal peoples in the form of how “Alaska Native” is defined. Indigenous culture and identity stem from practices, language, and traditions. It gives a person a sense of belonging, purpose, and social support, along with self-worth. For culture to survive it must have the ability to pass on knowledge and skills to future generations. For Alaska Native cultures, this ability is often restricted by using blood quantum to determine who can and who cannot participate in certain cultural activities.

Due to this colonial tool being forced into our ways of operating, blood quantum has been absorbed by our people and has become internalized oppression. We as Alaska Natives call ourselves “more Native,” and use our quantification when we speak to how Native we are. This challenges our identity because many think they are “not Native enough.” Blood quantum has started a fire from within, destroying families, cultures, and communities by segregating our own people.

Many members of the Alaska Native community are deeply concerned about the growing numbers of young tribal members who are unable to hunt or utilize marine mammals. Many communities would like to amend the definition so they can include their lineal descendants. Hunting marine mammals, proper hide preparation, and skin sewing are handed down from generation to generation. Selling traditional handicrafts made of marine mammal hide provides families and communities with sustainable clothing but also, economic subsidy. Coastal communities use marine mammals in potlatches, dance, song, rituals, and ceremonies. These ancestral animals are significant and sacred to Alaska Native heritage, identity, as well as artistic expression. Many descendants, however, are criminalized for engaging in these traditions even though these traditions are thousands of years old. The survival of Alaska Native culture is in imminent danger as federal regulations create criminals for teaching traditions.   

Federal agencies responsible for enforcing the provisions of the MMPA are the National Marine Fisheries Service and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The law stipulates that there is no permit required by Alaska Natives however for enforcement the individual must carry their Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states that anyone who is not Native or under one-quarter blood quantum and is caught partaking in Alaska Native cultural traditions that include the taking of a marine mammal are at risk of imprisonment and fines up to $100,000.  

Blood quantum is a tool that assimilates and terminates Native people. It is a hidden safety net that is placed into the fabric of treaties to ensure that benefits would be terminated. With blood quantum still used as an identifier of Native people, they will one day lose their status and recognition. It is an issue that affects everyone. The moment when tribal members are no longer Native enough, based on colonial tactics that were established to assimilate, is the moment Indigenous people are bred out of existence. It is critical to eliminate blood quantum from federal regulations because Indigenous people are the only group of people defined by a hypothetical quantification of blood.

Publisher’s Note: The views of this writer are their own and do not represent First Alaskans magazine or First Alaskans Institute. This space is for the sharing of viewpoints, meant to catalyze thinking and deeper dialogue on important issues that impact the Alaska Native community.