DULUTH, Minnesota — Should Native American blood continue to be a tribal citizenship requirement?

That's the question facing the 34,000 adult citizens of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) who are being asked whether to amend a critical piece of the tribe's controversial Constitution. It's a document that dictates its citizenship, rights, elections and governing body that was forced upon them by the federal government more than 60 years ago.

The vote is decades in the making as tribal leaders studied the issue. Ballots are set to be mailed for what's known as a blood quantum vote on June 14. (see update below)

Since 1961, membership in the six-nation tribe requires a minimum of 25% Minnesota Chippewa Indian blood, or blood quantum, stemming back to 1941 membership rolls kept by the federal government. The requirement has had the effect of shrinking the tribe's enrollment, with many children not considered members despite parents who are.

"We need to do something soon, as the end of the line is very near," said Wayne Dupuis, a member of the Fond du Lac band who has worked on Constitution reform for more than 40 years. Dupuis' three children were denied Fond du Lac citizenship nearly two decades ago because of the blood quantum rule. Dupuis said membership to the tribe should reflect its values and customs, not a calculation "determined by a law of diminishing returns.

Not everyone agrees. Some worry already limited federal funds will have to be spread thinner or that more people taking advantage of treaty rights for wild ricing or hunting will make resources scarce.

When the blood rule was adopted in 1961, the Bureau of Indian Affairs equated Native Americans with "horses and dogs," said Melanie Benjamin, chief executive and chair of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

"We as tribal leaders have to make sure we correct all of these terrible policies that were intended to wipe us out as American Indian people," Benjamin said.

Today, just 15% of MCT membership — about 40,000 people — is under age 18, a low figure directly related to the blood quantum rule.

Talk of removing the blood quantum criteria, as the Cherokee, Seminole and many other tribes have done, has swirled for decades. In recent years Minnesota Chippewa Tribe leaders, comprised of those from its six reservations, convened a group of delegates to study constitutional reform. The group recommended an initial vote meant to guide tribal leaders in the reform members want related to blood quantum, its biggest issue. A binding vote could follow.

Another question is on the ballot: Should the six reservations be allowed to determine their own citizenship requirements?

For some, the questions are complicated and wrapped in a history of the federal government's quest to shrink the number of Native Americans while eradicating their cultures, issues of identity and inclusion, and practical matters like services and funding.

The vote signifies reclaiming control of what was "imposed on tribes by the federal government," said Karen Diver, former chair of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who also worked for the Obama administration on Native American issues.

"The ultimate exercise in tribal sovereignty is how you determine citizenship," she said.


Minnesota Chippewa Tribe members vote to eliminate blood quantum...

Members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe have voted in a historic advisory referendum to eliminate a requirement that enrolled members must have 25% tribal blood.

Out of nearly 7,800 ballots cast, 64% of voters said the “blood quantum” requirement should be removed from the tribe’s constitution, which was adopted under pressure from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in the early 1960s.

In a second referendum question, 57% said individual bands or reservations should be able to determine their own membership requirements. The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe is made up of six Ojibwe or Chippewa bands in northern Minnesota, the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs and White Earth reservations. Red Lake Nation is not part of the MCT.  More👇