Can a Non Native American Join a Tribe?

Anyone can claim Native American heritage, but only the federally recognized Native American tribe can grant membership.  Many different criteria may be used to grant tribal membership such as cultural affiliation, degree of “blood,” and genealogical lines of descent.  Joining a tribe is beneficial for it gives you a sense of belongingness, support, identity and other socio-economic privileges. Hence, tribal membership is highly valued. The question is, can a non-native American join a tribe?

One cannot become an enrolled member of a federally recognized Native American tribe in the United States if he or she is non-native. It is because the tribes use blood quantum to determine one’s eligibility and lineage. To name a few, blood quantum laws require a range from ½ Chippewa Cree to 1/16 Eastern Cherokee. The purpose of tribal enrollment is to preserve the traditions of the tribe. The tribe rules and membership criteria are drawn from the shared language, customs, cultures, and tribal blood. 

Tribal Membership Enrolment

can you join a native american tribe

To determine blood quantum, tribes require applicants to obtain a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood. This is issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Those seeking a Certificate of Degree of Indian or Alaskan Native Birth (CDIB) must provide the government with primary sources such as birth certificates and marriage records to prove their level of Native American ancestry. The CDIB then lists the precise percentage of the bearer’s Indian blood degree.

If the threshold requirement is met, they can apply directly to a tribe using the blood quantum system. On the other hand, the descent system does not set a minimum blood requirement. Instead, anyone who can prove that they have even a drop of Indian blood can gain membership. That is provided that they can demonstrate that they are directly descended from a member from a particular time period.

For example, the Cherokee Nation requires prospective members to trace their lineage to a person on the Dawes Roll. The Dawes Roll is of list of individuals who were accepted for tribal membership and were entitled to a lot allotment as a homestead. With that, some tribes mix the two systems, requiring a relatively low blood threshold.

For example, one-sixteenth with a proof that an ancestor was mentioned in an old population survey. Others require that prospective members actually have been born on a reservation or lived there for an extended period of time. After completing the genealogical research, documented ancestry, and determining the tribe with which the ancestor was affiliated, the next step is to contact the tribe directly to obtain the criteria for membership.

These tribal membership criteria are contrary to the misconception that adoption or having a Native American spouse will automatically make a non-native American qualified for enrolment. So, why do Non Native Americans want to join a tribe?

Reasons Why Non-Native American Want to Join a Tribe

can a non native american join a tribe

There is a wide array of benefits that a non-native American tribe member can enjoy. These are comparable or even more desirable than a non-native American receives. They include housing, healthcare and civil rights, funds for disaster relief, administrative services for land trusts and natural resource management, to tribal government payments and educational benefits.

Healthcare Benefits

One of the special programs that the Native American population enjoys are health care services. Through a network of hospitals and clinics, the federally recognized tribe members can receive affordable or free medical services and health insurance such as maternal and child health, in and out-patient benefits, nutrition program, palliative care, and mental health wellness and rehabilitation.

Housing Benefits

Along with the medical program that Native Americans enjoy is housing benefit. It provides a solution for Native Americans’ housing needs in tribal areas where there are high poverty rates and low incomes, overcrowding and the of lack safe, sanitary, and decent homes, particularly in more rural and remote areas. 

The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and federally-recognized Indian Tribes for American Indians and Alaska Native (AI/AN) administer The Housing Improvement Program (HIP), which provides financial grants for home repair, renovation, replacement and new housing for eligible American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) and families who have no immediate resource for standard housing.

A mortgage program that is managed by HUD helps eligible borrowers to loan for buying, building, renovating, or refinancing a home for terms of up to 30 years that comes with no prepayment penalties. Another housing program is the Indian Community Development Block Grant program that provides grants which can be used to develop viable Native American and Alaska Native communities.

They grant aid in acquiring modest housing, proper and sanitary living environments, and economic opportunities for those with low and moderate incomes. These housing programs are designed to address the issue of housing difficulties through renovation, land acquisition, and new housing construction, community facilities, economic growth, and eliminating imminent public and safety threat.

Law Enforcement and Reservation Benefit

Aside from lot allotment, Native Americans also receive benefits such as law enforcement on reservations, tribal prisons and other detention centers. This means that tribes can exercise authority and criminal jurisdiction over tribal members and non-Indians for detention and prosecution.

There are also series of programs to meet the needs of law enforcement in Native American communities and villages that offer a variety of funding in areas such as personnel hiring, training, uniforms, equipment, technologies, police vehicles, and other emerging law enforcement needs.

Educational Benefit

Educational benefits for Native Americans are provided to address the financial incapability of the Native Americans for university or college admission. The American Indian College Fund provides scholarships to Native American and Alaska Native students and also provides financial aids to the nation’s 33 accredited tribal colleges and universities.

A student’s tribe is another good source of financial aid because tribes have scholarships for their members. If Native American students major in health professions, engineering, and accounting, the Indian Health Service Scholarship will provide educational support such as stipends, full tuition, books, uniforms, equipment, insurance, national board exams and internship.

Can a Non Native American Join a Tribe Conclusion

In conclusion, obtaining tribal membership may be a dream of every native and some non-native Americans because of its affiliate tribal benefits such as scholarships, minority recognitions, property rights, stipends, and tax exemptions. However, non-native Americans cannot join the tribe if they are not federally recognized through blood quantum and lineage.