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Blood Quantum: A Question of Preservation

For much of American history, blood quantum, a legal measurement of heritage, has determined rights and privileges of minority citizens.



Photo Library of Congress

Photo Library of Congress

For much of American history, blood quantum, a legal measurement of heritage, has determined rights and privileges of minority citizens. It may sound archaic, but many Native American tribes still determine membership based on blood quantum. This because unlike other ethnic groups in the United States, American Indian tribes are considered sovereign nations and the US government requires proof that one is a member of those tribes before one can legally be considered Indian. The history of blood quantum in the Native American community is long and complex, and still sparks controversy, especially because of its continued usage. There are many reasons why blood quantum is still a part of Indian life, but recent signs show there is both a willingness and a desire to put an end to it usage. 

A Brief History of Blood Quantum

Blood Quantum started in England as a way to determine inheritance. Before the laws of primogeniture–where the oldest surviving male son inherited everything by default–all surviving relatives inherited property according to the strength of their familial relationship. For example, a wealthy baron might have children with his wife as well as illegitimate children and half-siblings, all of whom would have a claim to portions of his estate. 

When English settlers colonized the New World, they brought blood quantum laws and used them to determine land and legal rights of Native Americans and slaves or former slaves. The first blood quantum laws in the US date from the early 18th century. However, blood quantum was not applied unilaterally in colonial America–important to note for the very fact that it was applied unilaterally in the 20th century. 

Instead, as with cases of inheritance in England, blood quantum was a tool used to determine the application of special laws regarding Indians (ability to sign contracts, receive state support and the like) on a case-by-case basis in a court of law. That’s not to say the laws themselves were fair, just that blood quantum was only an issue when these legal matters came into question. “Blood,” or how many of the individual’s ancestors were Indian, sometimes was ruled insignificant in the face of cultural association–in Inhabitants of Andover v. Inhabitants of Canton in 1816, the court ruled that though a woman didn’t have any Indian blood, culturally she was an Indian because she grew up with her tribe. 

Blood quantum was also applied when the US government signed treaties with Indian tribes to determine land rights and legal benefits–not tribal membership–and the Indians defined themselves as either “full-blood” or “mixed-blood.” The federal courts hesitated to apply blood quantum unilaterally because it was clear the Indian definitions of mixed-race were different from tribe to tribe and didn’t conform to the US government’s.

All that changed after the conclusion of the Indian Wars (which saw skirmishes as late as the 1920s but were effectively over after the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890). Indian who were moved onto reservations and were dependent on the government had their legal rights determined by blood quantum. The more “white” one’s blood was, the more legal rights one could claim. Rights like signing or witnessing contracts were denied to full-blooded Indians because they were wards of the government and therefore not considered competent. In effect, full-blooded Indians were considered children under the law.

Because most Indians in the late-19th and early-20th century weren’t allowed to sign contracts, they couldn’t sell the land the government gave them after the Indian Wars. But after several years, the government wanted that land opened up for possible sale. Not just because the land might then open up for white development, but because as fully competent owners of the land, American Indians would also have to pay taxes on it. Congress’ solution, first applied to the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma, was to break the land up into allotments, assign the allotments to individual members of the tribe, and then use blood quantum to declare American Indians either mixed-blood or not Indian, thus opening up their allotments for sale. 

How did Congress determine who was and wasn’t “Indian”? By using the blood quantum declarations in 19th-century treaties as well as anthropologists to study individuals’ facial features to determine their race. Not surprisingly, these measures dramatically reduced the population of the Native community. At the White Earth Reservation, for example, the number of registered full-blooded Indians went from more than 5,000 to 126.

Congress had an even greater purpose than opening up land, however. It should be noted that American Indians weren’t the only minority who faced blood quantum laws at this time–in the South there was the “one drop” rule, which meant that a person with one drop of African blood was considered black. Compare that to American Indian blood quantum, which fractured an individual’s racial heritage and considered one “white” if one was less than a quarter Indian. Why the difference? Because the purpose of African American blood quantum was to maintain a population of second-class citizens; the purpose of American Indian blood quantum was to eliminate “the Indian problem.” 

 “If you pass it to where they are quarter blood Indians you are going to have all kinds of people coming in and claiming they are quarter blood Indians and want to be put on the government rolls, and in my judgment it should not be done,” said Senator Burton Wheeler of Montana in 1934. 

He explained they [the government] were trying to get rid of the Indian problem “rather than add to it.”

It was generally believed that through intermarriage and racial mixing, in a few generations there would no longer be any Indians. With the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, sometimes called the “Indian New Deal,” Congress eliminated Indian land allotments altogether and used blood quantum unilaterally to define who had rights to financial benefits from the government for being Native American. Senator Wheeler did not get his wish: in the end, the limit was set at 1/8th blood quantum.

Modern Blood Quantum

Today, tribes are allowed to set their own rules for membership, and most of them still use blood quantum. Considering the history of blood quantum, why would they? The answer is complex and has to do with a mix of influence from the government and the difficulty of altering institutionalized policies. 

Starting with *the Indian Reorganization Act, tribes were recognized as “domestic dependent nations,” meaning they were allowed to make their own laws, but were not given full sovereignty as a foreign nation might have. Indian nations were given a selection of constitutional documents they could use to describe the powers of their own government. All the tribes who ratified the IRA included blood quantum requirements into their constitution.

One can reasonably conjecture this was due to the influence of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Paul Spruhan wrote a case study on how the Navajo Nation, who didn’t ratify the IRA and didn’t have a constitution until 1953, adopted blood quantum as a requirement for membership. It all started when the local Bureau of Indian Affairs officials suggested the Navajo might want to limit their membership to prevent people from exploiting their natural resources. The BIA officials then suggested a 1/4 blood quantum requirement for membership. This was eventually added to the Navajo constitution, and remains a part of it today, even though it was originally meant to be a temporary measure.

Why did the Navajo accept the BIA’s judgment about blood quantum and people trying to steal their resources? As with any group membership, they were trying to keep certain people out as much as they were trying to keep other people in. Spruhan suggests the Navajo wanted to exclude “Mexican slaves,” descendants of Navajo who where kidnapped by Spanish colonists and raised by them, and a group with whom they had a history of conflict. The Cherokee Nation instituted a similar measure to deny tribal rights to “Cherokee Freedmen,” or descendants of slaves of the Cherokee who were adopted into the tribe after the Civil War abolished slavery. 

In 2011, California tribes reorganized blood quantum requirements to dis-enroll a large number of people from the tribe so the remaining tribe members would receive greater shares of casino profits.

These are isolated incidents, of course, but they’re the most extreme examples of the effects of blood quantum, which to some extent requires conformity and the exclusion of those who don’t adhere to government policies. Even if one is an American Indian and hates the concept of blood quantum–which many, aware of its racist roots, do–refusing to join a tribe or leaving a tribe because of blood quantum requirements can have long-reaching consequences. Not just for an individual, but for their children and grandchildren, they are permanently removing themselves from their nation on simply a matter of principle. Noble, perhaps, but not very practical.

As with any institutionalized practice, once blood quantum is established it’s extraordinarily difficult to undo, as the Navajo Nation’s example illustrates. So while many people dislike blood quantum because of its history within the tribes, they’ve learned to live with it.

The real problem with blood quantum isn’t merely its racist roots, however, but the fact that it defines something amorphous–culture and identity–in terms of fractions, and does so in an inconsistent way. For example, if you are a member of a tribe the US government has decided is extinct–which is more common than you’d think—your ancestry with that tribe is no longer considered a valid qualification for blood quantum. Similarly, if some of your native heritage is not found in the US but Canada or Mexico, that “fraction” of your heritage won’t be counted in US blood quantum. Blood quantum also cuts out people who marry members of a tribe or those who are adopted into tribes, a long-standing American Indian tradition. In fact, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and many of the US founding fathers were adopted into the Iroquois Confederation, and portions of the Bill of Rights are taken directly from the Iroquois Great Law of Peace.

Many artists have commented on the fracture of identity caused by blood quantum. Sherman Alexie, a famous American Indian writer, wrote a poem that addressed it directly called “13/16.” In it, Alexie alludes to how people are reduced to fractions rather than whole people. The famous artist James Luna also addressed his fractured identity as both Mexican and Native American in a series of photographs that literally split the two sides of himself in half with stereotypical hairstyles and fashion. Chickasaw artist Kristen Dorsey created blood quantum earrings in the shape of a drop with numbers and bar codes on them, commenting on how viewing people in terms of their blood fractions rather than their heritage dehumanizes them. 

In all of these cases, artists try to express that human identity is more complex than being either a Native American or not; they have many different heritages, all of which make them who they are.

With such a history of blood quantum, it is no wonder that even people like Paul Spruhan wonder if it will always be a part of the Native American community. 

The answer is that there is momentum building to eliminate blood quantum: last year Hawaii unanimously voted to end blood quantum requirements in their state legislature. In January, the White Earth Nation in Minnesota proposed altering their constitution to eliminate blood quantum requirements. This is something that every American Indian nation decides for itself.

The issue of blood quantum in the American Indian community won’t be solved overnight, especially in the face of federal requirements concerning Indian nations and definitions of “Indianess.” But perhaps the more salient point is that blood quantum was intended to eliminate American Indians altogether, and they’re still here. Blood quantum may be an issue, but it’s not a lynchpin issue. Whether it continues or not Native American culture and tradition will persevere.

by Tasha Brandstatter


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Last Half

Rock Art of the Purgatoire Canyon





Despite the permanency the name implies, rock art has an unexpectedly ephemeral nature. It doesn’t announce itself but creeps up on you, appearing in places you’d least expect like the footprints of someone who’s passed before you. It is this very transitory nature of rock art that makes it both fascinating and extremely difficult to understand. Because of the large and unique collection of petroglyphs and rock structures in Southern Colorado, archaeologists in our area may one day be able to shed a little light on the meaning of rock art images all over the world.

The Picket Wire, or Purgatoire, Canyon area just south of Lamar has a large and well-preserved concentration of rock art that archaeologist Lawrence Loendorf of the University of New Mexico predicts will “be the key to understanding North American rock art.” The Purgatoire River running through the canyon is one of many tributaries that make up the Lower Arkansas River Valley, an area which extends through the southeastern corner of Colorado and into the Oklahoma Panhandle and Northwest Texas. This area has the highest concentration of rock art in North America and a cultural history going back tens of thousands of years.

Walking into the Purgatoire Canyon is like walking back in time. The canyon is huge—wide enough to be seen from space—and blanketed with long, savannah-like grasses, intersected by tall cottonwoods and tamarisk that line the river. On either side, the valley walls rise up and branch off into smaller canyons that remain largely unexplored. The canyon walls themselves are dotted with junipers and basalt boulders that run all the way down to the river bed like toys scattered in a child’s playroom. Considering that less than a century and a half ago the canyon had the humid, fertile environment of a rain forest, it’s not difficult to imagine the attraction of the oasis-like valley to settlers throughout history, from the Folsom Man to Spanish colonists.

And the rock art is everywhere: pieces chipped off from boulders litter the trail, and every rock seems to have some sort of petroglyph, although not in the most obvious places one would look.

Something that becomes immediately apparent when searching for rock art is how much seeing it depends on luck and subjectivity, even when the area is rich in petroglyphs. As Loendorf put it in his study of the Purgatoire Canyon, A Manual for Rock Art Documentation,

“ … in practice it can be very difficult to decide if marks on a rock are the result of a tree limb blowing against the surface or the product of a human artist. It can be equally difficult to decide if a series of marks is purposeful, not fortuitous.” He also points out that finding rock art can depend largely on such changeable conditions as lighting and recent rains.

Loendorf has been studying the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, or PCMS, since 1989 and is the world’s foremost expert on petroglyphs in Southern Colorado. The PCMS itself is not part of the Purgatoire Canyon, but borders the northeast side of it.

According to Loendorf there are three major types of rock art in the area: biographic, which are incised scenes of warfare similar to ledger drawings and buffalo skin paintings; visionary and shamanistic images like handprints, which are the most common images in the PCMS; and what Loendorf refers to as “doodles,” or very abstract shapes such as squiggly lines and spirals.

These types of petroglyphs are not unique to Colorado. Handprint petroglyphs can be found all over the world; and when seen in conjunction with human figures they are believed to be a sign that the art is shamanistic in purpose, as if the print is capturing the artist’s soul. Spirals or concentric circles are also a worldwide phenomenon. In the Southwest they are often associated with shields, but are sometimes also connected to astronomy.

That being said, there are certain types of rock art that can only be found in the Purgatoire Canyon and PCMS site. These petroglyphs are anthropomorphs or quadruped figures who face the viewer and have knobby knees and digitate hands. They were created by the mysterious Apishapa (also spelled Apishipa) Culture, a group unique to Southern Colorado who inhabited the Lower Arkansas River Valley between 2,000 and 500 years ago. They’re mostly known for building rock structures like the “Stonehenge” type ruins found in the Apishapa State Wildlife Area, about 20 miles east of Walsenburg. But there are also examples of their rock structures in the PCMS and Purgatoire Canyon.

Unlike other inhabitants of North America during this time period (between about 1050 and 1450 AD), who were developing a more sedentary lifestyle, the Apishapas remained semi-nomadic even though they were building permanent stone structures. These structures were probably used for visionary and shamanistic purposes, not as homes or shelters, and some sites have material dating from the Paleoindian and Archaic periods, suggesting the sites themselves might have been in use up to 10,000 years ago, around the time when the “Folsom Man” lived in nearby Folsom, New Mexico. No matter how long the stone structures were in use, though, one can infer from the continuity of the Purgatoire Style of rock art and archaeological evidence that there was a continuous culture existing in Southern Colorado up until about 500 years ago, when a sudden break in the style of rock art coincided with the disappearance of the Apishapas and the arrival of Plains tribes like the Apache.

No one knows what caused this break in cultures, but Loendorf speculates it was a combination of drought and the arrival of Europeans, which brought the availability of new tools such as horses and the uprising of a warrior culture. Unlike the Apishapas, the Apache (one of the first recognizable tribes to inhabit the area) liked to decorate their sacred caves with the images of their deities, as well as use caves in conjunction with cattail pollen to induce visions, which so far has not been found in the rock shelters of the PCMS. They also favored biographic images in their rock art, which is very rare in the Purgatoire Canyon. Instead, rock shelter-rich areas such as the one around the Dolores Mission and Cemetery have petroglyphs pecked or painted onto boulders outside of the rock shelters, never inside. According to Loendorf, the boulders were crude stone altars used by Apishapa shamans who drew figures “on the ground near them” to represent tribal deities.

No discussion of rock art in Southern Colorado would be complete without mentioning the work of the late William McGlone and Phil Leonard. Although not professional archaeologists, anthropologists, or art historians, they have probably done more research into the petroglyphs and stone structures of Southeastern Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle than anyone else in modern times. While their exploration and records are valuable, their contribution to the study of these petroglyphs is somewhat marred by their belief that the petroglyphs created by the Apishapa are actually Ogam, a form of writing developed by Irish monks sometime in the fourth century AD. They claim that reading Ogam inscriptions have led them to discover several archaeoastronomical sites, including Crack Cave in Picture Canyon and the Sun Temple, also in Southeastern Colorado. They also believe that some petroglyphs are a form of Northern Arabic writing.

The idea that petroglyphs are “saying something” is hardly surprising; as Loendorf puts it, “Art is not unlike language; when one element is placed on the wall, it plays a role in the next element.” However, aside from the presence of these supposed Ogam writings, there is no evidence of Western occupation in the Americas prior to the Vikings around 1000 AD, and then only in Newfoundland. Without proof of a Western presence, the theories of McGlone, Leonard, and others like them can only be interpreted as racist. By taking Native American inscriptions and monuments and labeling them as Ogam, Mithras, Anubis, Northern Semitic, Egyptian hieroglyphic, Apollo, and so on, they are essentially taking the history of Native Americans, erasing it, and replacing it with Western history!

Their claims would be too ridiculous to even warrant discussion if they weren’t regarded with so much credulity and if this practice wasn’t so wide spread in regards to Native American rock art. In 1994, for example, the discovery of Chauvet Cave, an Upper Paleolithic site in France with “wondrous” multicolored paintings, was featured in every major American newspaper. That same year, the Kaibab Paiute finished a study of cave paintings in the Grand Canyon which depicted the Ghost Dance and other images every bit as impressive as those in Chauvet Cave. Instead of mainstream media press coverage, however, they were featured in Weekly World News under the headline, “4,000-year-old UFO Found in Grand Canyon!” Even if these sensational claims are the only way to generate interest in rock art in North America, any attempt to remove American Indians from Native American rock art should be met with outrage.

Petroglyphs hardly need UFOs and secret histories to be interesting. Rock art is mysterious, and beautiful, and exciting, and for scholars trying to study it, occasionally frustrating. But possibly that is what it’s meant to be. One doesn’t have to understand or give a single meaning to everything one sees in order to appreciate it. Petroglyphs are artworks that are living and magical in a way that paintings in environmentally-controlled museums can’t match. While it is doubtful the petroglyphs and rock structures in Southeastern Colorado will ever be more comprehensively studied unless attitudes toward rock art change, the fact remains that the Purgatoire Canyon and the Lower Arkansas River Valley as a whole contains a wealth of history just waiting to be explored and admired.

by Tasha Brandstatter


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Last Half

Ice Blocking



With the stress of several fires, all dry desert heat, and rainless days, I know I’m looking for unique ways to stay cool and calm.

Since it’s not ideal to travel three hours to the sand dunes so you can spend a day scooting down sandy hills on plastic sleds like you’re Matthew McConaughey in Sahara, I have a different method for you all. Instead, you can get a little wet, and certainly wild, with a slide down and cool down toward the end of a hot day. With what you ask? What else could you possible do to cool down besides sprinklers in your back yard, waterpark, or swimming pool? Ice Blocking of course, don’t worry I’ll tell you what the heck it is. Here’s what you do. First, this simple fun can be easily devised using two items:

-One 10 pound block of ice (can be found at King Soopers)

-And One kitchen towel to keep your tush somewhat dry (don’t be afraid to accessorize)

Second, find yourself a steep and grassy knoll (dirt does not work and you will hurt yourself), University Park in Pueblo is always a good choice, but any steep hill will do. Next, place your towel over your block of ice, situate yourself as comfortably on your ice as you can, have your friends give you a little push and… Geronimo! You’ll slide down that hill faster than a fireman down a pole.

Continue to maximize your ice blocking experience in three ways. First, go on a hot day so your ice melts making you slide faster. Second, wait for the grass to get greener. As the ice melts, your block sleds down the green grass better. And third, find out if your desired hill space has a sprinkler system. If it does, find out when they kick on and go ice blocking then. Slickery is always better, in this case. Combine those three things and you’ll see what I mean. And why not dress down? You don’t get wet from ice blocking unless you go through the sprinklers. So get in those board shorts and bikinis and slip and slide over the hill and down a slippery slope of water.

It’s too much of a scorching inferno during the day, so try going ice blocking at night when the sun disappears and the evening feels a lot cooler. With this inexpensive outlet in the sizzling summertime, who needs Waterworld anyway? Actually, that does sound nice right now… but anyway. Give this poor man’s slip and slide a chance and it could create a summer memory between you and some great friends.

For a quick bit of fun on a budget, this is a great activity to let you get down while things continue to heat up.

by Kelly Branyik

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Last Half

Art Coup in Cañon



Through the lightly Juniper specked cliffs cupping the slight winding roads, you can take a slow drive past the quiet residences of small towns that don’t make it on the map.

Through the lightly Juniper specked cliffs cupping the slight winding roads, you can take a slow drive past the quiet residences of small towns that don’t make it on the map. Drive a little further, you might find yourself cruising upstream to the rushing Arkansas River. You may even see a lonely rafter eager for some white water or an angler hungry for brown trout. Art is neither a rare spectacle. You can walk down main street and spot several art studios full of a life’s work, or you can see an artist diligently completing his oil painting halfway outside of his studio door. For some, not much is really happening in Canon City for the art community but recently the Fremont Center for the Arts scored a major coup by showing an internationally-known artist’s creations.

Thomas ‘The Painter of Light’ Kinkade’s, artwork made its appearance at the Fremont Center for the Arts in Canon City. Thomas Kinkade is the American artist known for his realistic and impressionistic paintings using three elements of light: water, sunlight, and artificial light. His purpose in painting was to simply paint with his heart. Although he never searched for fame in his work, he is the most sold artist in the country and became so reputable that his art is easily spotted in St. Jude Hospitals, The White House and even the Vatican. 

Garden of Prayer by Thomas Kinkade | Courtesy Fremont Center for the Arts

Garden of Prayer by Thomas Kinkade | Courtesy Fremont Center for the Arts

The FCA is a non-profit organization home to the local artists of Fremont County but also host to collections and exhibits of art ranging from Day of the Dead exhibits to the Splendor of Glass exhibits to Artist of the Tattooist. The FCA’s establishment is known to the art community, but to outsiders it merely appears to be an extension of the public library across the street. To discover that Kinkade is in Canon City is a stunning piece of news, so with all this excitement, many are left wondering, how does artwork of this caliber make its way to a small town?

Art centers are struggling and it doesn’t matter that Canon City has the oldest Arts Community Council west of the Mississippi. The FCA’s Visual Committee has been working for two years to bring Kinkade’s original artwork to Canon. It all started in March 2011 when Linda Bella brainstormed ways to get more big name artists associated with the FCA. With the help of Linda Carlson, Bella settled on attempting to contact Thomas Kinkade. The Lindas searched diligently for his contact information, eventually finding it on Google.

Once they made contact with Kinkade, they proposed he show his art in Canon City. Kinkade’s response was a hearty chuckle and a “we only do shows in big cities.” Carlson’s logic was that big name art shows are less popular in big cities because the competition is too fierce, but in a smaller city, there will be a larger turnout of appreciative fans. Kinkade found reason in the proposition and March 2013 became the date for display. But the process took an abrupt halt when Thomas Kinkade passed away unexpectedly in April 2012, inevitably cutting off any correspondence with any and every person associated with Kinkade. “We almost didn’t get it,” said Carlson. For months, the Lindas had nearly given up on getting Kinkade to Canon until October when contact was resumed and the plans to showcase Kinkade continued. 

The FCA paid $300 for shipping each original painting from California to Denver. The display consisted of both original paintings and giclee of prints like The Wailing Wall, Disney’s 50th Anniversary sketch, his Fenway Park painting, Walk of Faith, and many others. 

I asked Carlson what the FCA hoped to gain out of bringing a world famous artist to Canon City. They hoped to increase interest, awareness, and support for the FCA, regardless of an artist’s prestigious reputation. During the one month display, the FCA sold $3,700 worth of prints, while the Denver Kinkade dealers anticipated only $200 profit. Between the splendidly detailed paintings and Patrick Kinkade’s heartfelt presentation of the hysterical and historical timeline of Thomas, the Kinkade display at the FCA turned out to be a great success for Canon City. So, who’s next for the FCA? The Visual Committee set July 2014 as the tentative date to showcase a Norman Rockwell display for two months.

by Kelly Branyik

 Cover photo The Fremont Center for the Arts   

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