In the Indian world, those who have BIA “cards” are considered “real Indians” and those who don’t, aren’t. It’s a sad commentary, really, because it draws a line in the sand and actively, systematically encourages both discrimination and the eventual elimination of Indian tribes, well, of government sanctioned Indian tribes, as we know them. Why? Because unless the tribal members “marry native,” eventually, their blood quantum, the percentage of Indian blood they carry, will be reduced to under the amount required for tribal membership, a percentage established by the tribes themselves. Then there won’t be issues about obtaining that precious BIA card from the government that identifies them as “Indian,” and entitles them to a number of services, because there won’t be any more “Indians.” They, along with the BIA who issues the cards, will have legislated themselves into the group of “have nots,” the “not real” Indians that the card carrying Indians so often disdain. Indeed, the line in the sand that includes/excludes the BIA card and tribal membership encourages discrimination both inside of and outside of the Native community.
I have often wondered if this is just another kind of long-term institutionalized genocide, one that Native people and tribes have bought into in order to obtain the services today that their people need. In time, the “Indians” will be gone, in another generation or two, which was, after all, the original intention of the government – to exterminate the Indians one way or another – through death, sale into slavery, religious conversion, assimilation – anything to make them non-Indian and to “go-away,” of course, leaving their precious land behind. By the tribes’ own definition of who is and is not an Indian, they will shrink their own numbers until they become extinct or so small as to be inconsequential. So the government doesn’t have to do anything, except wait, because the “shrinking” criteria for being “Indian” has been established and agreed to by all parties involved.
Why, you ask, wouldn’t the Indian tribes simply change their definition of blood quantum to include more people? That is a political question, and the answer even moreso, but in essence, there is a pot of money, often including casino revenue, and the pot must be divided by the number of tribal members. Some tribes have actually tightened their membeship requirements.
Warren Petoskey, a card-carrying member of the Little Bay Band of Odawa Indians writes about card carrying versus excluded Indians in Native News Network from a first-hand perspective. He is card-carrying, number 0322, but his wife is not. Take a look.
From another perspective, and for an example of what the BIA and Oklahoma Cherokee tribal membership cards look like, see John Cornsilk’s webpage.