Association on American Indian Affairs

Frequently Asked Questions

What is blood quantum?

Blood quantum is the amount of Indian blood you possess as determined by the number of generations of Native people you descend from, and it's the process that the federal government uses to say whether they consider you a Native American or not. Between approximately 1885-1940, census rolls, the 1900 special Indian census, the Dawes Rolls, Durrant Rolls, and land conveyances involving Native people were taken. Based on that information, if any of your ancestors were on those rolls, you may be able to receive a Certificate of Indian Blood (see below). For example, if your great-grandmother was 100% Indian and your great-grandfather was non-Indian, their child (your grandmother or grandfather) would be ½ Indian blood. If your 1/2 Indian grandparent married a non-Indian, your mother or father would be 1/4 Indian blood. If your mother or father married a non-Indian, then you would be 1/8. Of course, the percentages change if there were marriages between Native people and your blood quantum or Indian blood would be more. As you can see from the above explanation, the bottom number gets larger as your blood quantum decreases, therefore it is essential that if you are applying for any services, you figure the blood quantum correctly.

How do I get a Certificate of Indian Blood (CIB)?

A CIB can often be obtained from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) regional or agency office that covers the area where your tribe is located. If you don't know specifically which tribe, then try contacting the BIA closest to where your ancestors were born or lived. Send your birth certificate, your Indian parents' birth certificate and if available, your Indian grandparents' birth certificate (otherwise their name and approximate birth date), to the Regional or Agency BIA office where your tribe or ancestors are from. If your ancestors were on any of the old census rolls (early 1900's), they might be able to provide you with the name of the tribe(s) you are from and the percentage(s) of Indian blood. This doesn't always work, but it's the easiest and fastest way to prove your Native ancestry. You may need to do some genealogical research prior to this step. See the information under the "Researching Your Ancestry" under the tab to the right for ideas of where to look for information.

Can blood tests be used to determine ancestry?

Blood tests can be performed to determine if a person is of Native descent. This test, which can be ordered by your doctor, shows markers on the DNA which are characteristic of people of Native ancestry. To the best of our knowledge, this test does not necessarily indicate what tribe you are from or quantity of Indian blood.

Can blood tests be used as documentation for scholarships?

Blood tests can be performed to determine Indian descent. This does not necessarily indicate what tribe(s) you are from or blood quantum. Therefore, this documentation is not sufficient for AAIA's scholarship eligibility.

What financial aid is available for American Indian and Alaskan Native students?

The AAIA has eight scholarship programs available to Native American and Alaska Native students (See our Scholarship pages for further information). Although the number of sources of financial aid available to American Indians and Alaska Natives are too numerous to list, there are several links to other Native organizations, search engines and other scholarship opportunities listed under the Additional Financial Aid button on the bottom our main scholarship page. You may also want to do an internet search for Native Americans Scholarships or Minority Scholarships as well as scholarships in your curriculum. Also look to local civic groups, churches, businesses in your field that may be wiling to do a work payback program, your state and your other ancestry if you're not 100% Native. Public and university libraries may have books that list grant and scholarship information that are not listed on the internet and many universities have centers for continuing education that may be helpful.

Who can I contact regarding health services for American Indians and Alaska Natives?

Office of Minority Health Resource Center
P.O. Box 37337
Washington, DC 20013-7337
Indian Health Services (HQ)
US Department of Health & Human Services
Administration for Native Americans
330 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20201.
(202) 690-7776
Indian Health Services (HQ)
The Reyes Building
801 Thompson Avenue, Suite 400
Rockville, MD 20852-1627

American Indian and Alaska Native Programs
at the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH)
American Indian and Alaska Native Programs
Mail Stop F800
Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Building
13055 E. 17th Avenue
Aurora, CO 80045
Phone: 303.724.1414

Center for American Indian Health
The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health
615 N. Wolfe Street
Baltimore, MD 21205


Where can I find information regarding the adoption of an American Indian child and related materials?

You have rights under the Indian Child Welfare Act to access information that will help you establish your relationship with your tribe. However, there are variations in how state courts grant this access. Section 1917 of the Indian Child Welfare Act provides that:

"Upon application by an Indian individual who has reached the age of 18 and who was the subject an adoptive placement, the court which entered the final decree shall inform such individual of the tribal affiliation, if any, of the individual's biological parents and provide such other information as may be necessary to protect any rights flowing from the individuals tribal relationship."

The way this generally works is that the adult adoptee must petition the court which approved the adoption (usually a court located where they were born or where their adoptive parents resided at the time) to release information that can help the adoptee establish his or her relationship with their tribe. Sometimes the court will release a copy of the original birth certificate to the adoptee and let that person follow up with the tribe. Other courts have refused to release any information about the adoptee's biological family to the adoptee. Instead, they have released this information only to the tribe(s) that the child may be eligible for membership or to a third party intermediary. Where a state places a great emphasis upon the confidentiality of adoption records, judges may sometimes be reluctant to release any identifying information. Thus, if possible, it is best for adoptees (if they can afford it) to get an attorney who has experience in this area to file the petition, represent them in a hearing and argue relevant case law which is often required to persuade the court to release this information. Some cases on this issue include:

  • E.A. v. State, 623 P.2d 1210 (AK 1981)
  • Matter of Hanson, 470 N.W.2d 669 (Mich.App. 1991)
  • Matter of the Adoption of Mellinger, 672 A.2d 197 (N.J.Super.A.D. 1996)

For additional information contact the:

National Indian Child Welfare Association, Inc.
3611 SW Hood Street, Suite 201
Portland, OR 97201

FAQ's About Federal Acknowledgment

What is the purpose of Federal acknowledgment regulations?

The purpose of the Federal acknowledgment regulations is to acknowledge that a government-to-government relationship exists between the United States and tribes which have existed since first contact with non-Indians. Through the process, the Government determines whether it should extend such a relationship to a particular petitioner. The acknowledgment regulations do not apply to Indian tribes that are now acknowledged. They apply only to those tribes which have not yet established such a government-to-government relationship.

Who makes acknowledgment decisions?

The Secretary of the Interior has delegated authority to make acknowledgment decisions to the Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs under the Regulations governing Federal acknowledgment, found at 25 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 83. Most Federal regulations expand on a specific law or statute. However, the Federal acknowledgment regulations are based upon the general authority delegated to the Secretary of the Interior to deal with Indians under 25 United States Code (USC) Sections 2 and 9. Regulations are stronger than policy statements because they have gone through a process of public comment. On February 11, 2000, the Secretary amended the procedures for implementing the Federal acknowledgment process, in an attempt to streamline the process, making it more fair and consistent for both petitioners and interested parties who oppose certain petitioners. Since then, a number of expedited petitions have gone through the process to completion, or are on "Active Consideration," or have been placed on the list of tribes whose petitions are "Ready for Active Consideration."

The administrative work related to the review of petitions for federal acknowledgement is conducted by the Office of Federal Acknowledgement (OFA) in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The OFA staff typically consists of professional anthropologists, genealogists and historians who evaluate petitions for Federal recognition and make recommendations to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs on whether to approve or deny each petition. If the Assistant Secretary approves the petition, he/she acknowledges tribal existence and formally establishes an intergovernmental relationship between the tribe and the United States.

Who can petition for recognition?

Under 25 CFR Part 83, an Indian group seeking to be acknowledged by the Federal government can submit a letter of intent to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs requesting such acknowledgement.

Who may not petition?

Tribes, organized bands, Pueblos, Alaska native villages, and communities already recognized and receiving BIA services are not eligible for the FAP process. Neither can associations, organizations, corporations or groups of any character that have been formed in recent times (the fact that a group that meets the mandatory criteria under the regulations has recently incorporated or formalized its existing autonomous political process recently does not affect the Assistant Secretary's final decision on its petition). Splinter groups, political factions or groups of any nature that separate from the main body of a currently recognized tribe cannot be acknowledged under the FAP process unless the group can establish that it has functioned throughout history until the present as an autonomous tribal entity. Groups that are subject to Federal legislation terminating or forbidding Federal recognition as a tribe cannot be acknowledged under the FAP process. Groups that have petitioned without success cannot petition again.

How was Federal acknowledgment done before the regulations went into effect?

Before 1978, requests from Indian groups for Federal acknowledgment as tribes were determined on an ad hoc basis. Some tribes were acknowledged by Congressional action. Others were done by various forms of administrative decision within the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, or through cases brought in the courts.

How were the Federal acknowledgment regulations developed?

Requests for Federal acknowledgment increased in the 1970's. As a result, the Federal Acknowledgment Project (FAP) was started in the Department of the Interior. Regulations governing the administrative process for Federal acknowledgment first became effective October 2, 1978. The regulations were designed to provide a uniform process to review acknowledgment claimants whose character and history varied widely.

When the Federal Acknowledgment Project was first established, the regulations were designated as Part 54 of Title 25 of the Code of Federal Regulations (abbreviated as 25 CFR Part 54). The regulations were officially redesignated as Part 83 of Title 25 of the Code of Federal Regulations (abbreviated as 25 CFR Part 83) by Final Rule which was published in the FEDERAL REGISTER, Vol. 47, No. 61, pages 13326-13328, Tuesday, March 30, 1982. After an extensive process of public consultation and comment, the Federal acknowledgment regulations under 25 CFR Part 83 were revised in 1994. The revised regulations were published in the FEDERAL REGISTER, Vol. 59, No. 38, pages 9280-9300, Friday, February 25, 1994. The revisions became effective March 25, 1994 and are designated 25 CFR Part 83.

On February 7, 2000, Kevin Gover, Assistant Secretary--Indian Affairs authorized new procedures [published at Federal Register: February 11, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 29), Notices, Page 7052-7053].

These revised procedures do not change the acknowledgment regulations, 25 CFR Part 83. The Federal Acknowledgment process has a substantial backlog causing delays of years before OFA begins to review a petition that is sitting, ready for active consideration, and years more before there is a final resolution of a petition on its merits.

How do the current regulations work?

The current regulations require petitioners to show that they meet seven mandatory criteria. Section 83.5(c) of the acknowledgment regulations, describing the duties of the Department, provides: ``the Department shall not be responsible for the actual research on the part of the petitioner.'' Section 83.10(a) of the regulations provides that the Assistant Secretary -- Indian Affairs may ``initiate other research for any purpose relative to analyzing the documented petition and obtaining additional information about the petitioner's status.'' While such research discretionary, it does not make any additional research mandatory. Formerly, BIA staff have used this section to justify substantial additional research to supplement a petitioner's research and compensate for perceived deficiencies, even after petitioners have responded as comprehensively as possible to one or more technical assistance letters. The BIA no longer thinks this research is appropriate or necessary. Therefore, OFA are not longer required to locate new data to any substantial extent. OFA staff only will verify and evaluate the materials that petitioners and third parties submit.

The OFA will limit its review of a petition to examining the arguments of petitioner and third parties. OFA will decide whether the petitioners' or third parties' evidence establishes that the petitioner meets each of the seven mandatory criteria. OFA will focus on assessing the accuracy and reliability of the submissions. After a petition goes on Active Consideration, OFA will not accept any more submissions of documentation or analysis either from petitioners or interested parties. OFA will not request or accept additional information until the comment period begins following the publication of the Proposed Finding. This creates additional problems for petitioners who have limited funding (which means the overwhelming majority).

A "proposed finding" contains the OFA's conclusions, based on the evidence in the record as presented at that point. If petitioners or third parties submit raw data without providing any analysis during the active consideration of a petition, OFA shall not analyze these data intensively to establish whether a petitioner has met the criteria. Instead, OFA shall refer the responsibility for analysis to the petitioner or third parties, and require them to carry the evidentiary burden during the six month comment period. The main purpose of the 180 day comment period on the proposed finding is to give the petitioner and third parties time to present additional evidence refuting allegations of deficiencies and weaknesses in the petition that appeared in the proposed finding. The appropriate means to remedy any deficiencies is for the petitioner and third parties to offer supplementary submissions during the comment period. Therefore, OFA will retain any materials it receives from the petitioner or third parties during active consideration for review during preparation of the final determination.

OFA researchers review petitions as a team, in consultation with each other. The acknowledgment decision does not pass a definitive scholarly judgment on the submissions of the petitioning group. All the BAR staff will do is decide whether, based on a preponderance of evidence, a petition sufficiently addresses, or establishes a "reasonable likelihood," that each of the seven criteria. OFA's job is not to conduct research as an exercise in preparing for eventual judicial battles over the Final Determination. Although, presumably, BIA researchers will apply professional standards review in reviewing petitions, they must act within the expected time limits with the limited resources available, "as appropriate to the role of the Government in these procedures," and simply see whether the petitioner has met its burden under 25 CFR 83, not seek creative means to sandbag the petition (see the Samish case). The Assistant Secretary does not expect OFA to conduct its review and design and report recommendations in contemplation of all possible court challenges. Lawsuits happen, and it is no longer perceived to be necessary for the OFA to do full litigation defense in advance to reach a decision, even though OFA has its foundations in the BIA's Court of Federal Claims litigation defense team of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The regulations (83.6(a)) state that a petition may be "in any readable form that contains detailed, specific evidence . . .'' Petitioners or third parties often submit poorly organized materials, fail to identify their sources, or even explain the nature of the documents they provide. Such documents or exhibits may be partly or entirely "unreadable,'' within the meaning of the regulations, and OFA researchers will not longer go to heroic lengths seeking to identify or explain the materials. Petitioners and third parties must cite their sources for all documents in their submissions, or the OFA may not be able to weigh it properly as evidence. The message is, spell it out to OFA so that nothing is left to chance, and so there is as little room left for interpretation as possible. Leave no gaps, no "open texture" where your arguments or evidence can slip through the net.

The acknowledgment regulations require the Assistant Secretary -- Indian Affairs to "prepare a report summarizing the evidence, reasoning, and analyses that are the basis for the proposed decision'" (83.10(h)). BAR always has prepared technical reports (historical, anthropological and genealogical), but these no longer will appear with the Proposed Finding.

The acknowledgment process will continue to apply the precedents that these past decisions have established, as a kind of canon, including precedents under 83.6(e). Indeed, the Notice actually acknowledges that the "established precedents now make possible this more streamlined review process." OFA will no longer continue to insist that decisions can provide no precedent for later decisions, because each exists, as it were, in its own universe. OFA prepares a "summary evaluation report," along with a chart, or charts, "listing the evidence under each criterion, describing how the evidence has been weighed, and indicating the sections of the regulations and the precedents from past [acknowledgment] decisions that have been applied to that evidence."

How can I volunteer in a Native community?

We are often asked if we know of any volunteer opportunities in the Native community. Unfortunately, AAIA does not keep a list of volunteer opportunities in our office.

First of all, there are several things you should think about when looking for volunteer placements including where would you like to volunteer, what would you like to do, if you are willing to travel, how you will get there and how much you are willing to spend.

First you have to find a place to volunteer. Pick a state. You should be able to go to the State website and find contact information for the tribes that are located there. If not, Google "Indian tribes in Montana" or whatever state you chose. Once you locate the tribes, you need research them. Look at their websites and see if they are doing the types of things that you want to volunteer for. If you're looking to work with an organization that provides services to the Native community, such as a non-profit, Google non-profits in that state.

You need to know yourself and why you want to volunteer and what you like. If you want to volunteer because you want to "change the world" you need to realize the world you want to change may not want to be changed. If you want to learn about the differences and similarities of the culture and build mutual relationships, you will need to be open and flexible and let the tribe or organization take the lead.

If you want to help build a house and they don't have a need for people to help build houses but they have a need for people to tutor children in a summer school program or to transport elders to the doctor 50 miles away, then you need to chose another tribe or be flexible in what you want to do. You need to decide what you're good at and what you are going to be happy doing... If you're a sedentary person, you're not going to be happy doing manual labor and vice versa.

How much time do you have? If you want to volunteer for 3 weeks in May, Monday through Friday from 7am - 3pm, then you need to let the tribe know that.

If you live in New York City and you want to volunteer in Montana then you will have to travel. How are you going to get there? If you fly, once you reach Montana, how will you get to the reservation? Will you need to rent a car or is there someone who will be able to pick you up? Will you need a vehicle once you're there?

Where will you stay? Is the tribe willing to put you up and feed you, or do you need to rent a room or stay in a hotel?

Are there any additional costs? Is there a charge to volunteer? Or, say you're going to build that house. Do you need to bring your own tools, do you need steel toed boots or safety glasses? Will you be doing anything that you will need to provide proof of a work license or certificate or health insurance?

Once you've thought through this process, then contact the tribe or organization. If it's not obvious that they have an outreach department you might try contacting their administrative office. You might also want to send them your resume as well.

Many communities are welcoming and open to sharing their culture but many are still suffering the hurts of history. Don't be surprised or discouraged if you don't receive a response back. It may be that they just don't have any opportunities available, it may be that they are a close knit community and are leery of outsiders. If you are open to what you want to do and where you go, you will eventually find something.