Minnesota Chippewa Vote to Remove Blood Quantum Could Impact Casino Payments

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Minnesota Chippewa Vote to Remove Blood Quantum Could Impact Casino Payments

The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe (MCT) has voted to remove the blood quantum requirement for enrolment in its six constituent bands. The referendum could impact the way casino profits are distributed among the tribal members in the future.

Melanie Benjamin
Melanie Benjamin
Mille Lacs Leader Melanie Benjamin said the non-binding vote would inform the MCT executive committee about how members felt about blood quantum reform. The committee will decide the next move when it convenes in October. (Image: Brainerd Dispatch)

Last week, almost 4,800 MCT citizens voted yes to remove the blood quantum, which dictates that a one-quarter degree of tribal blood is necessary for enrollment.

The MCT was established in 1934 as the organized government for the six Chippewa, or Ojibwe, bands in the state. These are the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. All six are casino operators.

The vote is non-binding, according to Melanie Benjamin, Chief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. She told Native News Online it was held to “get an idea of the thoughts and opinions of MCT membership about enrollment.”

Blood Quantum Dilemma

Enrolment can entitle tribal members to certain services provided by the federal government, such as healthcare and housing. It is also tied to treaty rights, which include things like hunting, fishing and gathering. In some cases, it can also entitle members to a share of casino profits, called per-capita payments.

All Bois Forte tribal members, for example, are entitled to per capita payments from birth. The tribes do not publicize the amount these monthly payments are for, but they could be spread more thinly if the blood quantum is scrapped.

This highlights the dilemma inherent in the blood quantum system. Since the practice was adopted in the 1960s, the tribe’s population has declined. Once quarter-blood tribal members marry outside the tribe, their children lose eligibility for enrollment, even though they often grow up feeling part of the tribe, culturally.

‘Keeping Culture Alive’

Cheryl Edwards is a Fond du Lac Band member and sits on Chippewa Tribe’s constitution reform committee. She told MPR News that blood quantum reform would strengthen tribal families and communities.

“By removing blood quantum, it’s allowing our traditions and our culture to be passed on to our children to keep it alive,” she said.

But others believe reforms would suddenly expand membership, stretching scarce resources and diluting casino payments.

The MCT executive committee, which is made up of 12 elected leaders from the six bands, will decide the next course of action at its next meeting in October. That could include a ballot to change the MCT constitution to remove the blood quantum.

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