Cherokee adopts Baker Roll list as basis for tribal membership

Blood quantum. Even on their own, the words have a ceremonial, reverent ring to them.

For Cherokee tribal members, reality bears out the ring. Blood quantum — the fraction of one’s ancestry that is purely Cherokee — decides everything from a person’s ability to own land in the Qualla Boundary to availability of scholarships for college to eligibility to receive a share in casino profits each year.

Tribe moves to implement DNA testing for new applicants to Cherokee rolls

The Tribal Council of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has passed a new enrollment ordinance that requires DNA testing for new applicants to the tribe’s rolls. The DNA testing will be used to verify the applicant’s parental lineage.

The new enrollment ordinance also creates a process for disenrolling those who don’t qualify as Cherokee.

The Tribal Council’s vote earlier this month paves the way for non-Cherokee to be purged from the tribe’s rolls as soon as a month after Principal Chief Michell Hicks signs it into law. It is not clear when he intends to do that.

The council passed the new measures with a unanimous 12-0 vote on June 3.

The enrollment ordinance also puts a stop to new people enlisting as tribal members, with the exception of infants and 18 year olds, until an on-going audit of the tribe’s roster of nearly 14,000 tribal members is complete.

The updated ordinance is the result of months of debate on the Tribal Council floor about how the Eastern Band will implement its expensive and lengthy enrollment audit and avoid repeating the process again in the future. Tribal members voted to conduct the audit — designed to weed out people who don’t meet the tribe’s minimum enrollment requirements — in an intensely contested 2002 referendum.

Finally in 2007, the tribe hired an outside firm, The Falmouth Institute, to do the audit, which has cost $746,000 to date.

The audit turned up 303 tribal members with no direct link to the Baker Rolls, the 1920s-era document that served as a census of sorts of who was Cherokee at the time. Tribal members must be able to prove that they have an ancestor on the Baker Roll and have a blood quantum of at least one-sixteenth Eastern Cherokee. The audit revealed another 50 members who lack the adequate blood degree.

That last group is in the crosshairs of the new ordinance. According to the newly adopted policies, members in question will be informed of their status by certified mail and granted the right to a hearing before the enrollment committee within 30 days. If they don’t appear at that hearing, they’ll be automatically disenrolled.

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