Table of Contents
Journal of Anthropology
Volume 2011, Article ID 549521, 9 pages
Review Article

American Indian Identity and Blood Quantum in the 21st Century: A Critical Review

Department of Anthropology, University of Montana, Missoula 32 Campus Dr., Missoula, MT 59812, USA

Received 8 November 2011; Accepted 29 December 2011

Academic Editor: Santos Alonso

Copyright © 2011 Ryan W. Schmidt. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Identity in American Indian communities has continually been a subject of contentious debate among legal scholars, federal policy-makers, anthropologists, historians, and even within Native American society itself. As American Indians have a unique relationship with the United States, their identity has continually been redefined and reconstructed over the last century and a half. This has placed a substantial burden on definitions for legal purposes and tribal affiliation and on American Indians trying to self-identify within multiple cultural contexts. Is there an appropriate means to recognize and define just who is an American Indian? One approach has been to define identity through the use of blood quantum, a metaphorical construction for tracing individual and group ancestry. This paper will review the utility of blood quantum by examining the cultural, social, biological, and legal implications inherent in using such group membership and, further, how American Indian identity is being affected.