Our chapter on citizenship has an extensive discussion of the status of Native Americans. Previous posts have discussed controversies over tribal citizenship. A recent controversy in Massachusetts has renewed attention to the issue. At The Atlantic, Garance Franke-Ruta writes:
Elizabeth Warren is not a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
Elizabeth Warren is not enrolled in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
And Elizabeth Warren is not one of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee.
Nor could she become one, even if she wanted to.
Despite a nearly three week flap over her claim of "being Native American," the progressive consumer advocate has been unable to point to evidence of Native heritage except for a unsubstantiated thirdhand report that she might be 1/32 Cherokee. Even if it could be proven, it wouldn't qualify her to be a member of a tribe: Contrary to assertions in outlets from The New York Times to Mother Jones that having 1/32 Cherokee ancestry is "sufficient for tribal citizenship," "Indian enough" for "the Cherokee Nation," and "not a deal-breaker," Warren would not be eligible to become a member of any of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes based on the evidence so far surfaced by independent genealogists about her ancestry.
The claim of 1/32 ancestry involved her great-great-grandmother's birth certificate, but no one has actually found the document.
But even were such a document to be found, Warren would not be eligible to enroll as a Cherokee based on it alone. To begin with, the Cherokee Nation doesn't accept marriage licenses as documentation of Cherokee ancestry -- let alone a document described as an application for a marriage license by a descendent of the individual claimed as Cherokee.
"Marriage licenses don't cut it," said Krehbiel-Burton of the Cherokee Nation.
Further, to enroll as a member of the Cherokee Nation, an individual must have had a direct ancestor listed among the more than 101,000 people enrolled on the "Final Rolls of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory" between 1898-1914, now known as the Dawes Rolls. The Cherokee Nation is very strict about this, even keeping descendants of siblings of men and women on the rolls out of the tribe, as well as descendents of Cherokees who were living out of the area at the time the lists were drawn up in what was then Northeastern Oklahoma.The article deals with ancestry politics more generally:
Fractional Native American ancestry is quite hard to prove to the standards of the U.S. government, which in many ways acts as the ultimate "birther" in this regard. Percentage of ancestry or "blood quantum" -- the creepy and antique-sounding term used by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which certifies it for two of the three Cherokee tribes -- is recognized by the Bureau based on original documents (such as birth certificates, Census records, and death certificates) through something called a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood, or CDIB.
Warren would need to be certified by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as at least 1/16 Eastern Cherokee on a CDIB to be eligible to join the Eastern Cherokee. The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee hasan even stricter enrollment cut-off: "a minimum blood quantum requirement of one quarter (1/4) degree Keetoowah Cherokee blood" documented via a CDIB plus a direct descent from someone on the Dawes Rolls. Tribal citizenship standards are set by the tribes themselves, and not the U.S. government.Here is an example of a CDIB: