The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) voted Wednesday to remove “blood quantum” from enrollment requirements for their tribe, Native News Online reports.
It also voted to leave the determination of membership requirements up to the six individual Bands: Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe.
The overlap between tribal law and the gambling industry is significant. Minnesota is among those states whose only legal retail casinos are operated by federally recognized tribes.
This move by MCT raises the concern that per capita payments from the federal government could come in jeopardy as looser requirements lead to growing membership. Likewise, it means more individuals sharing the benefits of tribal gaming. That could impact existing forms of gambling in the short term and have ramifications for a potential online casino effort in years to come.
Minnesota passed a sports betting bill this May. Under the new law, the tribal casinos will control both retail and online sports betting. If online casinos were to come to the North Star State, it would probably be on similar terms.
Blood Quantum Explained
Don Kraker explained blood quantum to MPR News:
Blood quantum is a relatively new idea, a race-based policy imposed by the federal government. Beginning in the 1930s, the government pressured many tribes into adopting tribal constitutions, including blood quantum, to decide membership. In Minnesota, it was used by white settlers to acquire tribal land. Federal law only allowed Native people who had, quote unquote, mixed blood, to sell their land. Jill Doerfler, chair of the American Indian Studies department at the University of Minnesota Duluth, wrote a book on blood quantum. She says it’s a made up construct. There was no way for federal officials to accurately determine what percentage of Native blood someone had.
Impacts on Casino Revenue Payments
7,470 members of the tribe cast their ballots in the vote to end blood quantum. Nearly two-thirds voted in favor, according to MCT.
This could eventually change the distribution of revenue from MCT-owned casinos. MCT bands own 14 of the 21 tribal casinos in Minnesota, according to a list maintained by 500 Nations.
It is important to note that MCT is allowing its individual bands to determine their own membership. About 4,200 enrolled citizens of the tribe voted in favor of that decision while roughly 3,000 voted against it.
The bands likewise manage their casinos individually. However, federal payments are given to the tribe for distribution on a per capita basis. The possibility of having to distribute the same funds among a larger number of individuals is what has some of the tribe’s citizens worried.
Conversations on resources can be painful and divided
Sarah Howes of the Fond du Lac band described the conversation as a painful one for families. She told MPR:
My thing is like, I think, what would our ancestors think of us if they were looking at us and were saying, oh, we don’t include these kids because we’re worried about our $400? I mean, I think they would be ashamed of us.
Jill Doerfler expressed to MPR her concern about both resources and decisions made by members who considered blood quantum a priority when planning a family:
Some people have made choices in their life very specifically for blood quantum. And they might feel some resentment for people who haven’t made those choices. And then they say, oh, well, now we’re going to let these other people in, whereas I very carefully calculated my blood quantum and calculated the blood quantum of the person I chose to have a child with. There’s lots of people who have done that. They did the math. But I think, for a lot of people today, unfortunately, there is an association with resources.
In 2021, MCT held a Tribal Executive Committee meeting where blood quantum was on the agenda. Chairman Faron Jackson of the Leech Lake Band argued for an end to the policy.
His concern was with potential members and their descendents being denied their identity:
The MCT organization maintains and establishes justice for our tribe, to conserve and develop our tribal resources, our common property, to promote the general welfare for ourselves and our descendants. What kind of benefits are our descendants getting today? Children are being denied services because they are not being identified as a member. I want to make sure these kids can get acknowledged and identified as a member of the tribe; they want that identity established. I believe we don’t have a right to deny their blood inherent rights any longer.
The discussion will continue at MCT’s next tribal executive committee in October. That will include a report and a decision on the next steps for the tribe.