I oppose disenrollment because our heritage is our heritage. Our lineage is our lineage. Our heritage and lineage define us as Indians—not residence, blood quantum, or other failed federal Indian assimilation practice. I oppose disenrollment because it undermines an Indian’s—and in fact all of our—heritage and lineage.
We as tribal governments should establish our citizenship by relying on Indian heritage and lineage. There are reliable modern tools to establish that criteria, like DNA testing. I appreciate that science as a determinant of Indian citizenship may pose challenges to tribal communities traditionally speaking—that is for each tribe to decide—but it is preferable to blood quantum.
There are also culture-based ways to establish tribal citizenship criteria—ways that are tied to heritage and lineage, like tribal participation and cultural involvement. These alternatives to blood quantum may also prove challenging to implement, but nothing important to tribes comes easy. Tribal citizenship law and policy is one of the most important aspects of being a tribal sovereign.
Blood quantum originated as one of the many federal Indian policies designed to control us, to assimilate us, and, ultimately, to extinguish us. Those federal policies were designed to not allow us a future as Indian people.
Blood quantum is the dominant society’s method for measuring who is Indian and how Indian we are. It is not our way. It does not in any way reflect our culture. It does not respect our heritage or lineage. It will not give us a future.
I refuse to allow blood quantum to identify me. I am Tulalip. I get asked all the time, “How much Indian are you? What’s your blood quantum?” I tell people: “I am Tulalip.” That’s it. I refuse to self-identify by my degree of blood. Disenrollment is also a federal policy designed to terminate us. It, too, is not our way. It too, does not reflect our culture. It, too, does not respect our heritage or lineage. It, too, will not give us a future.
Disenrollment unfortunately is becoming the way that too many tribal councils determine who belongs—meaning by determining who does not belong. I fully respect each tribe’s right to determine its own citizenship criteria. But I cannot accept disenrollment, especially when it involves blood quantum, residential requirements, United States Indian rolls or censuses, or other federal ways towards Indian assimilation and tribal termination.
I also especially oppose disenrollment when it involves depriving Indians of the right to vote or otherwise participate in tribal democratic processes. Disenrollment is fueled by greed—pure and simple. It is no coincidence that we have seen a spike in disenrollment along with the rise of Indian gaming and the tribal political power and dollars that tribal casinos generate. We know better. We must move away from blood quantum. We must stop disenrollment. We must instead honor our heritage and lineage—to ensure our future.
John McCoy is a Washington State Senator for the 38th District. He is a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes.