You don't look Indian...How much are you?
This is a common question I receive while I show my work at events across the country. It's an understandable line of questioning as the majority of the public only sees Native peoples within the context of stereotypical hollywood portrayals. Furthermore, the concept of blood quantum is almost always used to define amounts of 'Nativeness' within American society. I find myself entering into brief history teachings about the racist origins of the blood quantum system and how people like myself exist as un-apologeticly proud citizens of our tribal nations despite our superficial features.
I was beyond excited to be asked to contribute an image of my "Blood Bling" piece to an anthology of writings and art about blood quantum titled "The Great Vanishing Act, Blood Quantum and the Future of Native Nations." This important collection of writings is produced by the Oneida Nation and features all Native voices from a diverse array of backgrounds.
I believe that as an artist, the most powerful work comes from a place of authenticity and first hand experience. For me, personal struggles with my identity and blood quantum are an almost daily weight. The effects of the American government's blood quantum system created lasting internalized damage to mixed families like mine. I grew up with a Grandfather who was both proud of his Chickasaw citizenship, yet conflicted about his place within our tribal community. As a small child, the concept of Native blood fractions was so confusing that I thought I would loose my Chickasaw identity if I were to get a cut and bleed.
“Blood Bling” features a photo etched Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood Card in silver. It is set in a hand-carved baroque style bronze frame accented with Cubic Zirconia in red, white, and blue.
As a college student earning a degree in American Studies, I was introduced to the history of Blood Quantum, and was finally taught that it is a non-Native tool of colonization and assimilation rooted in the racist notion that white "blood" is stronger than "Native blood." When I was a student searching my library for scholarly writings on the topic, encountering a book such as Vanishing Act would have been a game changer.
One of my favorite essays in the book is by Doug Kiel titled Bleeding Out: Histories and Legacies of "Indian Blood." In this essay he examines the historical origins, and legal applications of blood quantum:
Blood quantum was invented and imposed as part of a colonial project designed to subvert the sovereignty of Indigenous nations. The construction of Indigeneity as a racial category based on degree of blood is a fiction that helps to sustain white supremacy and normalizes disregard for Native nations as legitimate sovereigns. In its practical implementation through the Dawes Act (1887) and Indian Reorganization Act (1934), blood quantum served the aim of dispossessing Native peoples by limiting the number of individuals who could claim Indigenous identity. Enforcing a strict biological definition of Native reduces the number of Native people who demand individual and collective rights, seek continued recognition of treaties, and serve as a reminder that the United States still exists in a state of colonial domination.
Blood quantum is an issue that faces every Native Nation today, and conversations that dismantle the authority of the blood quantum system are critical to the survival of contemporary Native identities and citizenship. I am very excited to be participating in a conversation with other contributors to this book on the show Native American Calling. Tune in to this discussion on Wednesday, August 31st from 1-2PM EST here. The show will be archived after it airs. If you would like to learn more, copies of the book are available for purchase on Amazon.