Native tribes vary on how citizenship determined

Tribes from across the country converged for an intertribal powwow during the 2018 Cherokee National Holiday. Citizenship for federally-recognized tribes vary, as each establishes its own criteria for membership.

Through constitutions, articles of incorporation or ordinances, sovereign nations establish requirements for member enrollment. And it doesn't necessarily have to do with actual blood or DNA.

Criteria for enrollment can vary from tribe to tribe, although most require a lineal decadency from someone on the tribe’s base roll. The Cherokee Nation, for instance, has its own requirements in that citizens must be able to trace back their family history to a roll more than 100 years old. And there are several such rolls.

“The Cherokee Nation requires all citizens to have verified Cherokee lineage traced back to a Dawes enrollee,” said Derrick Vann, associate tribal registrar. “Once someone’s Cherokee lineage is verified via the Dawes Rolls, we require a completed citizenship application submitted, along with a copy of an ID.”

In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for tribes to hold ceremonial adoptions of honorary members. Some may still do that, since the tribes themselves are sovereign nations and can determine whom they accept as members.

However, the adoption practice has largely been discontinued, as it’s also not uncommon for people to try to gain benefits by claiming distant Native ancestry. For the Cherokee Nation, though, all applicants must be able to prove they have at least one direct ancestor on the Final Dawes Rolls.

The process for membership at the Choctaw Nation is similar.

“Only applicants who are able to prove their direct lineage to an original enrollee on the Final Choctaw Dawes Rolls, who was registered with a blood quantum, are eligible for membership with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma,” said Brad Mallett, senior executive officer, legal and compliance.

To prove direct lineage to the original enrollee, who was also registered with a blood quantum, applicants must obtain a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB).

The Cherokee Nation, meanwhile, has started enrolling Freedmen descendants into its tribe, although the process does not differ, said Vann.

“All applications are processed by date received,” he said. “We do not separate or give precedence to any applications.”

The Choctaw Nation does not have Freedmen enrolled as members. Mallett said the tribe’s membership criteria was established in the Choctaw constitution and approved by the U.S. Secretary of Interior.

“No one can be refused membership into the Choctaw Nation based on his or her race, religion, sex or any other basis which would be seen as discrimination under federal law,” he said.

To become a member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, applicants must be able to provide proof they are descended from an individual on the 1949 United Keetoowah Band Base Roll, or of an individual on the final Dawes Roll. They also need to have a one-fourth Keetoowah Cherokee blood quantum, which is calculated through the two base rolls.

Media inquiries to the Muscogee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians were not returned by press time.

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