So you’ve discovered you have a Native American ancestor and you want to prove on paper that you are descendent of a member of a federally recognized tribe. How do you go about doing it?
There are two avenues to proving that you are a descendant of a member of a federally recognized tribe. The first is proving to the Bureau of Indian Affairs with the appropriate documents that you are a descendant, the second is proving to your tribe that you have enough blood quantum to qualify for enrollment. One thing that many people do not know is that each tribe is different when it comes to the amount of blood quantum you must have to be an enrolled member of a tribe. For example to be an enrolled member of the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho you must be able to prove ¼ blood quantum, however, the Cherokee in 1976 decided that anyone who could prove they were a direct descendant from someone on the Dawes Rolls could become an enrolled member. So, it’s important that you do the research and find out what the lowest blood quantum percentage is for your tribe. It may be that you do not have a high enough blood quantum to be enrolled, however don’t let that discourage you, you can still receive a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood through the Bureau of Indian Affairs which is also proof on paper.
The first step to proving you are a descendant of a member of a federally recognized tribe is to find your ancestor on one of the rolls, depending on your tribe that could be an allotment, or an annuity census roll or both. Once you do this and are sure it is your ancestor, maybe you’ve found the ancestor and other family members and the ancestor was living in the right area at the right time so you are sure it is him/her, then you need to write down the tribe, the enrollment number, and if available the census number. This information is vitally important to your search. Your next step is to get state certified birth and death certificates of your enrolled ancestor. These cannot be copies. You should also check for any other documents which may help to back up your claim such as social security numbers, probate determinations, or court orders. The idea is to get as much information as you can. When you have all the proof on paper you can discover that links you to your Native American ancestor then you need to fill out an application for your Certificate of Degree of Indian or Alaskan Native Blood. You can receive an application by writing the regional BIA office for your tribe. Once you’ve filled out the application and provided the appropriate paperwork to back up your claim you send all this to the same regional BIA office for consideration. Keep in mind it may take months or even up to a year for this whole process to be completed.
Once you have received your Certificate of Degree of Indian or Alaskan Native Blood then you need to find out what the lowest blood quantum percentage is to qualify for enrollment in your tribe. If your degree of blood is too low then you have gone as far as you can. If on the other hand your blood quantum is high enough to meet your tribe’s lowest quantum requirement then you can go about discovering what else your tribe needs to consider you for enrollment. While typically a CDIB certificate is satisfactory in proving you have Indian ancestry within your tribe, most likely you will also be required to fill out an application in addition to providing a copy of your CDIB certificate, and sometimes there will be more such as providing your genealogy as well. Most tribes are online these days, and you should be able to find out what your tribe’s requirements are, as well as, get a copy of the application for enrollment by simply logging onto the internet and doing a quick search for your tribe’s website.
A piece of paper does not make you Indian, it simply proves you are a descendant of an Indian who happened to be a member of a federally recognized tribe. Being Indian is something only you can discover the meaning of by becoming involved in the culture, learning your language and discerning exactly what it means to you personally. That being said, it is a wonderful feeling knowing you can prove on paper that you are descended from someone who was a member of a federally recognized tribe. However, there were many tribes who were wiped out by disease, war or integration early in America’s history and it’s important to keep in mind that if you cannot prove your ancestry on paper it does not mean you do not have Indian ancestry. Only 20%-30% of the Native American population at the time of enrollment are actually on tribal rolls, many chose to integrate rather than suffer the stigma of being Indian in the 19th century. Ultimately, only you can determine what being Indian means to you.