When it comes to researching your Native American ancestry, you may come across a lot of information about enrolling in a tribe. The tribal enrollment process, while varied from tribe to tribe, is typically meant to preserve a tribe’s unique culture and traditions.
Enrolling in a tribe is a great way to learn more about your lineage. It is also an important way to help you prove Indian ancestry. Here are the most important things you need to know about the tribal enrollment process.
A lot of people believe, due to oral histories told down through their family lines, that they have Native American heritage. However, a simple claim that you are related to an American Indian is not enough to prove that you are eligible for tribal enrollment.
The first step, therefore, is to undergo DNA testing. There are several companies you can do this through, including 23andMe and Ancestry.com. While DNA testing in itself is not enough to prove your tribal eligibility, it can help firmly establish a connection to a tribe. It will give you an idea of whether or not it is worth it for you to seek legal tribal enrollment in the first place.
—Read our article – What you need to know about DNA testing!
Each individual tribe, since it is a sovereign nation, establishes its own set of enrollment criteria; you will not be able to find a uniform enrollment process to prove Native American ancestry. The criteria can typically be found in a tribe’s ordinances, articles of incorporation, or constitution.
Two of the most common requirements are deemed from the tribe’s base roll, which is an original list of members from a document that specifies tribal enrollment criteria, such as the tribal constitution. You will often need to prove that you descend from someone listed on the base roll, or prove a relation with someone else descended from a base roll member. There are other conditions in place for tribal enrollment, too, such as continued contact with your tribe, a tribal residency, or tribal blood quantum.
How to Apply for Tribal Enrollment
Applying for tribal enrollment will come after you’ve completed the rest of your genealogical research. You’ll want to make sure you are applying to the correct tribe, which is more possible after you’ve obtained enough information about your ancestor’s tribal affiliation.
Then, you will need to reach out directly to the tribe in question, and they will be able to fill you in on their enrollment criteria. Though there are large Native American organizations that exist, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, they are rarely involved in the process of tribal enrollment. Check out our tribal directory to find contacts for the tribe you need. There are 562 total.
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As you go through the process of attempting to procure tribal enrollment, it is a good idea to contact the tribe early on. They will be able to tell you what you need to do at every step in the process.
Why Is Tribal Enrollment So Restrictive?
As we stated earlier, Native American tribes are sovereign nations and therefore are able to determine their own standards for the legal recognition of tribe members. This is because those seeking tribal enrollment may be doing so for the benefits that come with it, such as education or health services access. Strict tribal enrollment rules are in place to allow these tribes to make sure there are not individuals taking advantage of the system.
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