On Tribal Citizenship

I’m Euroamerican. There’s no way, currently, that I can become a citizen of a tribal nation. (Unless I’m granted “honorary citizenship,” which is highly unlikely.) That’s totally fine with me. I don’t need to become the citizen of a tribal nation.

Back in the day, the United States assumed control over tribal citizenship. It was the United States that instantiated “blood quantum” as the requirement for tribal citizenship.

There’s obvious problems with having “blood quantum” as the sole requirement for citizenship into a nation.

These days, tribal nations are able to define who they want within their nation. Some use blood quantum still. Other use direct lineage. And so on.

But the problem of tribal citizenship is a deep philosophical problem that tribal nations have been grappling with.

Back when I was in grad school and working on my (unfinished) MA thesis, I proposed a few things. For example, I suggested that Native Nations require that citizens understand fundamental documents, such as the tribal constitution, in order to be citizens. Citizenship, these days, for most nations, anyway, is thinned out to be a political position. You are, in most cases, now able to vote, run for office, shape your nation. And you don’t, again, in most cases, have to be culturally the same as everyone else in your nation.

Others have proposed cultural requirements for tribal citizenship. Steve Russell, in Sequoyah Rising, is one such person.

In my MA thesis, I argued that mere cultural requirements may be unjust. And, moreover, cultures grow, change and are redefined (we hope) as people grow, seek knowledge and change. Cultural requirements may go against what J.S. Mill calls “experiments in living.”

At this point, however, I do not feel entirely comfortable offering any profound suggestions as to how Native Nations can properly and justly change their citizenship requirements. It is, as I said, a deeply philosophical problem that I’ve thought about for years to no avail.

It would be nice if other people with philosophical background took these issues seriously. I could use some help. And so, I take it, could tribes.

In the end, tribal nations may come up with something entirely new when it comes to citizenship. And that, I think, would be great.



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