On March 5, 2015, Cherokee Nation citizen and Citizen Potawatomi Development Corporation Director Shane Jett spoke before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Jett discussed the historical and contemporary issues facing Native American, and specifically the impact of the blood quantification in limiting young members from attaining full tribal memberships. His remarks are below.
It is an honor for me to address the High Level Segment of the Human Rights Council and speak out for the Native American indigenous tribes of the United States.
I bring greetings from my beloved country, the United States of America, my State of Oklahoma, home of 39 Native American tribes, and my own tribe, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
I am grateful to the FAWCO for this opportunity.
As a former legislator in Oklahoma, I worked closely with each of our 39 tribes. I have advocated for all tribes on the state and national level. Today, I am truly grateful for this international forum to advocate for the rights of our future generations.
Like many tribes, the Cherokee Nation’s was forced from our homelands to travel great distances by threat of military violence. We called this our “Trail of Tears.” We were forbidden to worship in our traditional religions. We were denied citizenship. Our land was taken and redistributed…the list is long and sad.
There are many human rights issues that plague the Native American populations:
- violence against Native women
- extreme poverty
- lending practices
- lawsuits over taxation
These are well documented. I wish to tell you today about the destructive practice of blood quantification to determine the degree of “Indian Blood.” This was implemented in 1885, and was often done in an arbitrary and non-scientific fashion by simply looking at skin color or other physical appearance to determine if you were “a full blood” or a “half breed.”
The real purpose for the “blood quantification” was to mathematically reduce the number of tribal members by attrition. Though the United States has since dropped this requirement, the damage was done. Today many tribes continue to use blood quantum to justify expelling native children whose blood quantum drops below the minimum threshold.
The truth is that blood quantum was never part of true and authentic Cherokee culture or tradition. It was never a part of any American Indian tribal tradition. The irony is that it was never a European or American tradition. It was invented solely for the purpose of dividing us until we were no more. No need for violence. With the right mathematics there will be no more American Indians.
The ultimate tragedy would be for our ancestors to have endured so much to survive, only for my generation to squander our existence for all time. If we lack the wisdom to reject this mathematical formula, many tribes will cease to exist.
My appeal to the Human Rights Council is to consider recognizing the practice of expelling children from their tribe based upon an antiquated blood quantum system is both traumatic and a violation of their basic human rights. Blood quantum should be relegated to the pages of history as the archaic practice that it is. Blood quantification may be a useful practice for breeding and tracking livestock, but it should never be used as a means to expel Indian youth from their tribe, their culture, their heritage and their birthright.
Neither the Cherokee Nation nor the Citizen Potawatomi Nation use blood quantum as an arbiter of tribal citizenship.