Nanełyaene’ ugheldze ghaniicdoldziis de’ (Good Blessings for the Family)

“My mom (Katherine Wade) did not like being called a half-breed, it made her feel separate – too Native for some spaces and not Native enough for others.” – Larraine Wade

Ahtna Dene Peoples follow the traditional kinship system of matrilineal descent, which identifies the clan to which an individual belongs. This system of matrilineal descent is in contrast to the Euro-American practice of patrilineal descent from which a family name (surname) is derived through the male line of descent (i.e. the father). In a matrilineal descent system, an individual belongs to the same clan (descent group) as their mother. Clan structure denotes a Tribal Citizen’s roles and responsibilities in all aspects of life until their passing. 

Manifest Destiny, the doctrine or belief that the expansion of Euro-Americans throughout the American continents was both justified and inevitable, sanctioned eradication efforts of Indigenous Peoples, their culture and identity over centuries in the United States. In the 19th and 20th centuries, ‘blood quantum’ or ‘Indian blood’ policies and laws were enacted by the United States government to define and quantify Indigenous Peoples’ ancestry to receive government services. These ‘blood quantum or ‘Indian blood’ policies and laws impact Tribal Nations and indigenous peoples by requiring them to document their precise quantity of ‘Indian Blood,’ carry personal identification documenting their ‘blood quantum,’ and have a minimum ‘blood quantum’ (often 25% or 50%) to receive benefits.

An individual’s ‘blood quantum’ (abbreviated as BQ) is defined as the percentage of their ancestors who are documented as ‘full-blood American Indians.’ For example, a person has a blood quantum of ½ (50%) if they have one parent who is a ‘full-blood American Indian’ and one parent who has no indigenous ancestry. The required ‘blood quantum’ system of documentation causes many Tribal citizens to feel they are a fraction, or percentage, of a whole person, and it impacts how they self-identify; what cultural connections they pursue; and what, if any, benefits they receive. These U.S. government-imposed policies and laws have created another social system of segregation; the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’

These policies and laws also ignore the inclusive, Indigenous traditions of kinship, which include connection by heredity, marriage, and adoption, and extend to all children born of a Tribal citizen regardless of ancestry percentages. Traditionally intermarriage among Tribes is common; particularly among closely related Tribes and Tribes that have adjacent or overlapping traditional territories. For many individuals, the blood quantum laws reduce their full spectrum of heritage to only a fraction of their Indigenous heritage. This segregation of their heritage cost some individuals their qualification as ‘American Indian,’ because of having ancestry from more than one Tribe, but not 1/4 or more ‘blood quantum,’ from one Tribe. 

Today, each federally recognized Tribal government maintains its own criteria for citizenship (or membership). To exert their Tribal sovereignty, and perpetuate traditional Ahtna language and cultural lifeways, Nay’dini’aa Na’ Kayax recognizes lineal descent, and formal adoptions, as the system for recognizing Tribal citizens; regardless of ‘blood quantum.’ Nay’dini’aa Na’ Kayax Elders and leaders strongly believe that requiring a minimum blood quantum perpetuates a system of genocide against indigenous peoples. As Clan Grandmother and Matriarch Katherine (Wickersham) Wade used to say when people told her they were only a certain percentage Native, “What part of you is Native, your toes? If you are a Native, then you are Native, it doesn’t matter that blood quantum.”

  • Schmidt, Ryan W. “American Indian Identity and Blood Quantum in the 21st Century: A Critical Review.” Journal of Anthropology (2011): 1-9. Print.
  • Spruhan, Paul. “A Legal History of Blood Quantum in Federal Indian Law to 1935.” South Dakota Law Review (2006): 1-50. Print.

Above: Certificate of Degree of Indian or Alaska Native Blood documents