Blood quantum vote a pivotal moment for Grand Portage, Minnesota Chippewa
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Blood quantum vote a pivotal moment for Grand Portage, Minnesota Chippewa

Members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) will decide this summer on a number of tribal enrollment issues, including blood quantum requirements that could play a significant role in future membership and the overall population of the six-nation tribe.

The blood quantum rule is used by many tribes in the U.S., according to Tadd Johnson, the University of Minnesota’s first senior director of American Indian tribal nations relations. In short, the rule requires that a person’s combined blood quantum from their parents be at least 25 percent in order to be eligible for enrollment in one of the six bands within the MCT.

Many enrolled members of the tribe recently received a ballot in the mail posing two questions, including one about blood quantum requirements, and the second about if each band should be able to determine the standard. Tribal elections are Tuesday, June 14, though Johnson said a determination on the blood quantum rule will likely come later.

As it stands now, only 15 percent of MCT membership is under age 18. In Grand Portage, as of March 2021, there were 1,098 enrolled band members, according to a report produced by the band. Of those, fewer than 100 were below the age of 18, a number that many tribal leaders across the state say is tied directly to the blood quantum rule.

When it became apparent that tribal enrollment was becoming a critical issue, MCT leaders contracted with Minnesota-based Wilder Research to study short and long-term projections for each band’s population. The study found that the “overall population of MCT and each of the bands is declining under the current enrollment criteria.”

For the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, if the blood quantum rule is not changed, the total number of band members enrolled would be approximately 120 by the year 2098.

In the 1940s, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs pressured tribal leaders with the MCT to adopt a blood quantum requirement for tribal enrollment, according to a recent report in Red Lake Nation News. The requirement essentially shrunk the tribe’s enrollment over time, with many children not considered band members despite having parents who are, the report reads.

Johnson says he expects there will be a change to the blood quantum rule for some of the bands in MCT, perhaps all of them, though it’s not clear exactly how things will change or ultimately unfold. Regardless, the process will take time to unfold and the vote this summer by enrolled members is only a step in the process.

Johnson served as a tribal attorney for more than 20 years, and has also served as a tribal court judge and administrator.  He is nationally recognized in the area of Native American Law and is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. He spoke with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs about the blood quantum rule and the future of tribal membership for Minnesota’s Chippewa bands during a June 9 interview. Audio below.