Thursday, February 09, 2023

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E. Treating Americans as Indians

A discussion of the legal status of Indigenous peoples would not be complete without mentioning that the United States not only has acted to confer American citizenship upon Indians, but it has also acted to confer Indian status on people who would otherwise simply be considered solely as Americans.

This situation arises in at least two different ways. First, the United States currently makes determinations whether a group of Americans claiming to be an Indian nation will be recognized as such and thus have all of the benefits and burdens associated with that status. This can occur through a regulatory recognition process conducted by the BIA or through recognition by Congress. Second, the United States characterizes individuals as Indians for certain purposes who may not be citizens of Indian nations. For example, eligibility for certain federal services may be determined on the basis of percentage of Indian blood rather than tribal citizenship. Another example would be the way in which the United States determines Indian population statistics on the basis of one's self-identified racial background regardless of Indigenous citizenship. Federal redefinition of Indian status is a significant contributing factor to the emergence of the racial minority group known as “Native Americans,” which is composed of persons who are not Indigenous citizens but are of Indigenous descent.