How do you claim membership in an American Indian or African tribe?

I have some Cherokee ancestry, so some years ago I got interested in how you go about claiming citizenship in the Cherokee nation. I looked it up online and discovered the following:

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the Cherokee tribe compiled two census rolls of the Cherokee tribe. It seems that, to claim membership in the Cherokee nation, you have to be able to prove that you are a direct descendent of someone on one of those two rolls. Well, okay, it’s probably not quite as simple as that, but recently it occurred to me that this is the sum total of all I know about claiming membership or citizenship in a tribe, either American Indian or African.

So lately I’ve been wondering. What are the standards for the others?

How would you go about claiming membership in the Apache? The Souix? The Hopi? The Creek? Or any of the dozens of others?

For that matter, there are millions of Americans of African descent. Could any of them qualify for membership or citizenship in African tribes? What would they have to do to qualify? For that matter, have any Americans successfully claimed membership in an African tribe? What would he have to do to be recognized as a Zulu or a Yoruba?

I don’t seriously expect that I’ll get detailed information on how to join every tribe that ever existed, but it would be nice to know just how these things are done.

Here are a couple of links from the BIA:
(deals with general questions regarding Indian ancestry and how to trace it)
(lists all federally recognized tribes in the continental US.)

Tribal membership requirements vary from tribe to tribe. Some tribes have very strict requirements (IIRC Hopi) while others are quite lax.

My tribe (Mojave) requires 1/4 blood and a formal request to the enrollment department/tribal council.

I believe that you must possess 1/4 Indian blood in order to be eligible for BIA benefits.

Hope this helps.

The two major censuses of the Cherokees have their listings reported in sources referred to as the “Dawes Rolls” and the “Guion Miller Roll”. Those are fairly easy to use.

Searching for other tribes is much more difficult. There’s a lot of paper chasing to do. The Federal Government did take censuses at reservations around the turn of the century, but they are not indexed which means you have to be pretty sure that you know where some ancestor was at a particular place in time and hope that the census taker found that person.

Then you have to prove you are related to that person.

As for tracing ancestry back to Africa, that’s even harder. There are books available at most public libraries that can explain the process. Since it’s February and Black History Month, the librarian might be aware of such books being used in displays.

In either case, an old relative with a good memory is the best resource of all.

Use one_madJack’s info to get federal info. Basically, the BIA is the one that calls the tune. This was not always the case. During the 1970s, (IIRC) there was a period when the western Cherokee basically accepted people with any “blood quartile” (feds’ term), down to 1/16th. That has long been discontinued. Why? Because federal laws have been changed (again - and again!).

If you go to you will find the information “straight from the horse’s mouth” WRT the procedure once you’ve proven you are descended from someone on the right federal census lists (mainly the Dawes Roll). Odds are enormously against you, not because the Cherokee (or any Indigenous Nation) are opposed to admitting people who can prove they have Native ancestry, but because the US govt wants to limit membership in Native American nations as much as possible.

Good luck anyway.

The BIA did not certify the Western Pequots, who run the world’s largest casino in Ledyard, CT, as the agency was by-passed by a politically correct Congressional committee; and, consequently the people who own the casino and hundreds of acres of former Connecticut real estate, are not even Indians, much less Pequots. But Connecticut doesn’t want to give up their share of the slot revenues so they conveniently overlook it at this point. You or anyone else could have easily joined this “tribe” a few years back. Too bad we didn’t have the foresight.

We have a similar ‘tribe’ doing the same thing here in Louisiana. They have been on the news recently and guess what-they all look like white people! The tribe didn’t even exist until last year, but they won a court case or something. Meanwhile the Homa indians who are mostly white (but still somewhat indian) who have a history of anti-indian discrimination were denied tribal status. (IIRC)

For an absolutely fascinating book that you can’t put down on this subject, read “Without Reservation” just out. The people of Ledyard CT had a great deal of their tax base removed from the town’s control before they even knew what hit them. The casinos are huge and have created terrible traffic problems for the surrounding small villages, plus, even though they have created jobs, they are not subject to many employment laws. The strangest thing is that they have an Indian museum and have Indian celebrations and an Indian motif, but they are not even remotely Indian. It’s kind of twilight-zone like. Basically, the outcome can be traced to a young idealistic attorney (who started the Indian land claims fiasco in Maine), and in the case of Ledyard, one charismatic individual with a lot of determination. I know I have somehow gotten off the subject. sorry.

I don’t know anything about the specific tribe you mention, labdude, so I’m not commenting on that particular incident (although I would be very interested in reading about it if you have any links, or the name of the tribe).

However, we might keep in mind that many Native Americans do in fact look “like white people” because they have both Native and White ancestry. This issue impacts internal tribal politics as well as dealings with the US government, because it raises a lot of questions (most of which are more appropriate for GD than GQ) about what it means to “be” an Indian. Is a person who is 1/4 Indian, looks “white”, and was raised within their tribal tradition less of an Indian?

Several items
(a) Modern American Indian Tribes are bureacratized entities largely shaped, in terms of rules of membership, by the United States Government
(b) I t is my understanding that most Tribes descend from national/tribal units which made treaties with the United States Government. E.g. the Iroquois tribes refered to themselves nations.
© African “Tribes” is a misleading 19th century term which took on a life of its own in the 20th century through colonialism. In general what the media refers to as tribes in Africa are linguistic entities like “German”. The usage in Africa arose from Europeans assuming all Africans were stone age primitives, false of course, and organized in tribes, often false. For anywhere but Africa we’d likely say Ethnic Group for most things callled tribe.

The underlying people might or might not have belonged to a single political unit and rarely were political units, in for example West Africa, organized on linguistic grounds. The Empires in West Africa for example were multi-ethnic.

The Zulu of course are a political unit, with an organization etc. so they might be said to ressemble a North American indian tribe. I suppose one should only have to learn to speak Zulu or just ask.

The Yoruba, however, are a linguistic unit, like Germanic or German speakers. They were never united in a single “tribe” historically, but rather historically had small kingdoms, sometimes multi-ethnic. Thus, the term tribe for them is a complete misnomer.

Ergo, one can’t “join” in a bureaucratic sense “The Yoruba” although I am sure some political units of the Yoruba might have standards of adhering and there are also Yoruban nationalist movements which one could join.

LP, I’d say the question to ask isn’t “how can I claim membership” but “should I claim membership”?

To make it generic: for any white American (or black American) who is told at some point in his/her life something along the lines of “your grandmother was part Cherokee” or “part Indian” or whatever –

My advice would be, by all means delve into this. Find out as much as you can about your ancestry (black, white, red, or plaid). Record whatever you learn, and pass it on to the next generation.

But don’t think in terms of “claiming membership” in an Indian tribe. Bottom line: if you didn’t grow up in the community, you aren’t a part of the community. As someone pointed out, many Indians today are of mixed ancestry. Being Indian isn’t a matter of genetics, it’s a matter of being part of a community. If you didn’t grow up in the community, you aren’t Indian. Someone with the same percentage of Indian ancestry who did grow up as part of the community is Indian; you aren’t. You can learn about the tribe, meet your distant cousins, etc., but it really isn’t, IMHO, appropriate to claim membership.

There are a lot of white Americans (and black Americans) who try to come up with proof of desent from this or that tribe in the nieve belief that doing so will bring them a cornucopia of free goodies from the government, esp. that the govt will, upon their presenting documention of Indian-ness, pay for their (or their children’s) college education. This is, by the way, a myth. There are also a lot of white and black Americans who have a nieve fondness for Indians, but little knowledge about them. Some of these “wannabes” claim a dubious connection to some tribe or other.

People who were not born and raised in the community who try to claim membership are apt to be assumed to be either deluded wannabes, or opportunists looking for a handout.