Submitted By: Gwendena Lee Real Bird
The White Mountain Apache Tribal Council voted November 1, 2013 and passed Resolution 11-2013-218 to call for a Bureau of Indian Affairs administered Secretarial Election on a proposed Constitutional Amendment to the enrollment criteria. This was again discussed at a recent Council meeting, which plans were finalized to move forward with this Secretarial Election.
The proposed amendment resulted from a group of tribal elders, and denied enrollees requesting a change, a change that could affect the current 16,467 enrolled members of the Tribe by increasing its membership. The present Constitution of the Tribe requires that ”all persons of one-half (1/2) degree or more Indian blood, of a federally recognized Indian tribe or tribes, Provided, That the person is at least one-fourth (1/4) degree White Mountain Apache blood.”
The new proposal would allow for anyone with one eighth (1/8) degree or more White Mountain Apache Blood, without any other blood quantum requirements from another federally recognized Indian tribe or tribes.
According to BIA Superintendent of the Fort Apache Agency Nona Tuchawena, the Secretarial Election Board has scheduled this election for May 10, 2016; however, is waiting for approval from the Central Office for approval from the Regional Director’s request for a waiver to conduct the election under the old regulations. In addition, the BIA Secretarial Election Board will be providing an update to the Tribal Council at its February monthly meeting set for February 17, 2016, which includes a schedule of all necessary requirements and time frames that the election will need to meet. The Tribal Council will at that time, approve the May 10, 2016 election date. The date, as it stands, exceeds the required time frame to hold an election. By regulation, the election is to be held within 90 days after the Regional Director’s approval of the Secretarial Election.
If this proposed amendment passes, it will be up to the Tribe to establish a process for applications for membership to provide documentation to establish their 1/8 degree White Mountain Apache blood to meet the new criteria.
The role of the Secretarial Board from the Bureau of Indian Affairs is to provide voting information on the election process, deadlines for registering for the election, posting of the voters list, deadline for returning absentee ballots, voting sites etc., The list of eligible voters will include those who are turning 18 years of age as of May 10, 2016. The Secretarial Election Board is only responsible for conducting the election in accordance with applicable regulations and is composed of local BIA officials, or appointed designated representatives.
According to the Vital Records Office, Tribal members who are currently not eligible to enroll in White Mountain Apache Tribe (who lack blood quantum requirements) is 503, and 175 pending applications and 42 who will be enrolled as of 2/10/2016.
America’s first blood quantum law was passed in Virginia in the 1700s in order to determine who had a high enough degree of Indian blood to be classified as Indian, and whose rights could be restricted as a result. (NY Times, David Trueuer Dec 2011)
The Bureau of Indian Affairs has used a “blood quantum” definition—generally, one-fourth degree of American Indian “blood”—and/or tribal membership to recognize a person as an American Indian. However, each tribe has a particular set of requirements, typically including a blood quantum, for membership enrollment in the tribe. Requirements vary widely from tribe to tribe: a few tribes require at least a one-half Indian or tribal blood quantum; many others require a one-fourth blood quantum; still others, generally in California and Oklahoma, there are tribes who require a one-eighth, one-sixteenth, or one-thirty-second blood quantum; and some tribes have no minimum blood quantum requirement at all but require an explicitly documented tribal lineage. Amazing that Native Americans, from time to time have had to prove their ethnicity, can you think of any other group that has had to prove their ethnicity?
One of the factors of being recognized as Native American is that of benefits such as obtaining care from Indian Health Services. Michelle Martinez, CEO of the local Whiteriver Service Unit, had this to say about the population they serve here at the clinic: “Based on patient registration information, we serve a population of approximately 17,000. About 5% of them are registered as non-Indian/non-beneficiaries/descendants that are not eligible for tribal enrollment. Non-beneficiaries are only eligible for life and/or limb emergency medical services. If the blood quantum is lowered, 4% of the 5% will possibly be eligible for enrollment. There will still be about 1% that will not be eligible, even at 1/8. A majority of those ineligible affected by the present criteria are our most vulnerable population of infants, children and special needs. This number is based only on those community members we have come into our facility to register for services. There is a population that we have never had contact with because they are aware of their ineligibility for health care services from IHS. We cannot speak to what number they represent. “
When asked if this rise in population would help the service unit, she added, “ Unfortunately, this will not get us more funding right now. The present funding we receive from Congressional appropriation is based on 1960s population and need. This will help us when we get funding for a new facility. The updated assessment will be based on present population and needs for a new facility.”
A sensitive issue – what really makes one a White Mountain Apache? Long ago, tribal members from other tribes were stolen and raised as Apaches, which may apply to some of us in our ancestral background. Then there are children who have paternity that is not established, but meet qualifications for enrollment without paternity being established; however, their blood quantum is only counted as half. When the child becomes an adult and marries, especially to a non-White Mountain Apache, their children would have even more limited blood quantum.
In speaking to various tribal members ranging from middle age to elderly people, their opinions differ. There are some who are strictly against lowering the blood quantum because they are 4/4 White Mountain Apache and feel that 1/8 wouldn’t qualify as WMAT. Others feel that as long as the mother is full-blood White Mountain Apache then their children should be eligible for enrollment. Then there are those who said that those who are 1/8 White Mountain Apache, raised on the reservation and understand the culture, customs and heritage who identify their homeland as here. They indicate that their Grandmas raised them, and this is home and they are Apache. One asked if the quantum can ever be raised back up after its lowered and are there enough resources for all those who would then become members or would some tribal members relinquish their rights here to enroll elsewhere, but would these people who relinquish their rights still be able to have a home here or be allowed to use natural resources here alongside their relatives who are members here?
Other points made were that if 1/8 blood are allowed to be enrolled as White Mountain Apaches we aren’t Apaches anymore because more than likely they do not understand the culture, the language, and customs of the Apaches. Learning the history of our people is important to who we are, they stress. Our beautiful Apache language makes us unique and sets us apart from other tribes, we have to draw the line somewhere. These are some of the comments that were made, when the question was asked of various tribal members on their thoughts of the 1/8 blood quantum issue.
Who is responsible for the public education of this entire proposal to reduce the blood quantum? The responsibility is left with the Tribal Council members. Look for future meeting dates from your representatives, and at that time or any time prior to the meeting dates, your questions can be answered and this sensitive issue further discussed. Nonetheless, your concerns should be heard and taken into consideration of this sensitive issue and YOUR VOTE on May 10, 2016 will be the deciding factor if this proposed amendment passes. Deeper questions about culture and identity, about the future of the Tribe are coming to the surface, as such, remember to exercise your right to vote on this important matter as it will definitely affect the outcome of the future of the Tribe.
Gwendena L. Real Bird is the Executive Assistant to the Tribal Chairman and serves as the Public Information Office for the White Mountain Apache Tribe