5. Region and recognition: Southern Indians, anthropologists, and presumed biology.

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Blu, Karen I. “5. Region and recognition: Southern Indians, anthropologists, and presumed biology.” In: Anthropologists and Indians in the new South. Ed. Rachel A. Bonney and J. Anthony Paredes. Tuscaloosa: Alabama UP, 2001. Pages 71-85; notes on pages 238-240. Key source


This insightful, well-reasoned essay touches on a number of important issues related to federal recognition and uses Blu's extensive knowledge of the Lumbee as the primary example. Issues include:

  • the way the relationship between Indian groups and anthropologists has changed because the groups need experts to help them meet the prodigiousrequirements for documentation mandated under the federalacknowledgement regulations; 
  • an enlightening, convincing discussion (with numerous examples and quotations) of blood quantum (the amount of Indian blood a person has), how the federal acknowledgement process has brought this racist conceptback into discussion, and how these discussions exhibit essentialistbiologistic thought; 
  • reasons why federal acknowledgement is so deeply desired by groups such as the Lumbee (example: “. . . a desire . . . for an unquestionable, determined, and once-and-for-all autochthonous, Indian, status: an external validation for their own traditional knowledge” (p. 73));
  • how the federal acknowledgement process has brought about changes in relationships of Native American groups to each other, and how biological   language and essentialism creep into the discussions (using Lumbee efforts to obtain federal acknowledgement as an illustration); 
  • strong arguments that Indianness is a social and cultural concept (as  anthropologists have maintained since Franz Boas), not a biological or genetic one. One point Blu raises is that the Lumbee tribe's membership criteria specify that “'eligible descendants who have failed to maintain tribalaffiliation' . . . and community ties can be purged from the rolls through thedecision of the Tribal Elders Review Committee” (p. 84). 

Here, as in other writings, Blu presents some information seldom seen in other works. She notes, for example, that a BIA official stated in 1996 that only three groups with populations over 1,000 had submitted petitions for federal acknowledgement at that time (the Lumbee: 44,000; the Houma, 18,000; and the Miami, 4,000); none of them had been recognized.

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