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Published November 19, 2013, 12:08 PM

White Earth members vote on blood quantum rule

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The White Earth Band of Ojibwe were slated to vote Tuesday on whether to scrap a constitutional rule that says tribal membership is based on blood, not family lineage.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The White Earth Band of Ojibwe were slated to vote Tuesday on whether to scrap a constitutional rule that says tribal membership is based on blood, not family lineage.

The "blood quantum" rule, used by many tribes in the U.S., requires that tribal members be at least one-quarter American Indian. The White Earth Band and the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe adopted in back in 1963.

If White Earth members decide to do away with the rule, it would provide a critical boost to the tribe's shrinking population in northwest Minnesota. The band would be the first in the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe to revise its constitution and completely change the rules for who can be a tribal member.

The new enrollment criteria could double or even triple the membership of White Earth, according to Jill Doerfler, assistant professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Doerfler grew up on the reservation, but doesn't meet the tribe's enrollment requirement. Her mother is a tribal member. Her father is white.

"Creating a new constitution is ... nothing short of monumental," said Doerfler, an adviser to the tribe on constitutional reform.

There are currently about 19,000 White Earth tribal members, but independent studies project that within 30 years, the population will decline by more than half.

Some tribal members argue the blood quantum rule has reduced pressure on limited financial and natural resources.

Tribal member Sharon Enjawdy-Mitchell told Minnesota Public Radio News a larger population might makes things worse.

Enjawdy-Mitchell acknowledged the tribe needs to do away with the rule, but is concerned about family members who are unfamiliar with the tribe's way of life and culture becoming part of the tribe.

The current White Earth constitution dates to the 1930s when it was put in place by the federal government and includes a tribal council form of government with no separation of powers.

The new constitution, if adopted, would create executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, adding checks and balances to the government and placing term limits on elected officials.

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