A Legal History of Blood Quantum in Federal Indian Law to 1935


The paper traces the development of the use of blood quantum, or fractional amounts of Indian blood to define Indian in federal law up to the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The paper shows that blood quantum was not widely used in federal law until the twentieth century, as the branches of the federal government used matrilineal or patrilineal descent or tribal membership to define Indian, for various legal purposes, including during the allotment era of federal Indian policy. Ultimately, the paper concludes that the varied uses of blood quantum reflect the changing policies of the federal government towards Indians through time and the continued failure to resolve two interlocking foundational contradictions of Indian legal status: 1) Indian as race and as a political group, and 2) Indian as sovereign and as a ward.

Resource Type

Spruhan, Paul. "A Legal History of Blood Quantum in Federal Indian Law to 1935." South Dakota Law Review. Volume 51, No. 1. 2006. Paper. (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers2.cfm?abstract_id=955032, accessed February 23, 2023)

Related Resources


"Blood Quantum and Sovereignty" is a beginner-level conversation focused on why blood quantum is controversial, as well as how it came to be used as an enrollment and citizenship criteria for Native nations. Produced and recorded by Native Governance Center on March 30, 2022. Featuring: Wayne…

Native America Calling: Tribal Enrollment And Blood Quantum

Every tribe has its own rules for membership. Some tribes include lineal descent — proof that you descend from a recognized tribal member — while others have a blood quantum requirement that requires members possess a certain percentage of tribal blood. On White Earth, researchers found that the…

What is Blood Quantum?

This article will explore the history of using blood quantum to categorize American Indian identity. The measuring of blood and the concept of 'Indianness' is a complex and difficult subject...