Legally and politically, an American Indian is a member of a tribe. Each tribe creates its own membership requirements to determine whether an individual is eligible for enrollment. Membership criteria varies from a certain degree of American Indian/tribal blood quantum to community recognition as a tribal member. Each Tribe should be contacted as to the specific enrollment qualifications for that tribe (for more information on enrollment issues, visit the Bureau of American Indian Affairs website at http://www.doi.gov/bureau-indian-affairs.html).
In order to be politically and legally recognized as an American Indian, this political connection between the tribe and the individual must exist, as it is that connection that determines whether the individual American Indian can access rights established by treaties between the tribe and the U.S. Government. Additionally, a tribe must be federally recognized for both the tribe and the individual American Indian to access protections and An individual may be full-blooded American Indian, with blood from many different tribes, but without enough blood quantum of any specific tribe to meet any tribe’s criteria for membership. Although this person may be considered an American Indian racially, he or she would not be considered an American Indian either politically or legally and could not access those federal protections and services established by treaties, nor take advantage of most tribal services.
A person who is identified politically or racially as an American Indian is protected under both state laws and federal laws that protect minorities. The state cannot legally establish criteria of tribal membership because that is a right solely reserved to each tribe. Montana’s K-12 education system, therefore, allows parents to identify their children as American Indian for the purposes of state educational programs.
4th of June, 2012