Jill Doerfler. Those Who Belong: Identity, Family, Blood and Citizenship among the White Earth Anishinaabeg. East Lansing, Michigan State University Press, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61186-169-3.




Tribal membership remains a fraught question in Indian Country, cutting to the very heart of relations between tribal nations and the federal government, as well as deeply intimate issues of individual and family identity formation. Jill Doerfler's analysis of the impacts of blood-quantum requirements on the White Earth Nation is a timely and highly informative intervention in these conversations. The work is a finely researched study that brings into relation the historical and legal contexts for debates concerning the regulation of citizenship at White Earth, though this close focus on one tribal group has valuable implications for the broader issue of tribal citizenship. Some of these implications are sensitively drawn out in the very informative introduction to the book. The introductory chapter also considers such relevant topics as tribal nation sovereignty and the contexts of American "Indian" identity. Through these discussions, Doerfler intelligently and clearly places her own intervention in terms of prominent contemporary scholarly approaches.


Methodologically, the study draws on a number of paradigms, most clearly legal and constitutional studies, history and literature, to define an analytical method that is grounded in Anishinaabe tribal values. As she makes clear from the outset, Doerfler defines her approach in terms of the importance of storying as a means to convey tribal values and beliefs, philosophy, law, custom, history, and the like. Drawing her inspiration primarily from her own life-long commitment to the White Earth Anishinaabeg and from the writings of Gerald Vizenor, Doerfler argues powerfully for blood quantum as an strategic imposition by the colonizing US federal government, designed to reduce the numbers of enrolled or federally recognized Indigenous people with a view to the eventual demographic elimination of Native tribes and, in advance of that, to perpetuate the deracination, displacement, and dispossession of Anishinaabe people. According to Robert Gillespie's 2012 report to the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, at current projections by 2090 there will be no individual who qualifies for citizenship of the tribe and so the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe will cease to exist; his projection for the White Earth Nation was that elimination of all qualified citizens (and so the nation itself) will occur by 2080 (Doerfler xxii). Such demographic disappearance would serve the interests of the US by eliminating federal trust responsibilities and making Native resources available to the federal government.  As Doerfler argues, blood quantum works to abolish the distinctive Indigenous status of Native people by reducing them to one of many American "ethnic" groups with no specific entitlements such as those that are historically guaranteed to tribes by treaty. Blood quantum then is an insidious means to perpetuate historic efforts to assimilate Indigenous people into the US "melting pot" and, at the same time, to undermine Native nations by removing their sovereign right to determine their own tribal citizenship.


The pseudoscience of biological race, upon which blood quantum regulations are based, is undermined by Doerfler's observation of the religious, political, geographical, phenotypical diversity of the Anishinaabeg. In this context, she highlights the sinister origins of racial identity theory in the work of nineteenth-century eugenicists like Francis Galton and works to show how eugenics offers the framework for the colonizing category of the American "Indian": an impossible racial identity construction that can never be realized by any tribal individual. The racialization of tribal citizenship through the bio-racial criteria of blood quantum is opposed to the Anishinaabe practices of adoption, naturalization, kinship, and intermarriage, all of which tie people to their lands and governments through systems of community relationships and responsibilities. These traditional practices form the core of Doerfler's argument that the rejection of blood quantum in favor of tribal citizenship by lineal descent is a powerful act of survivance, which she defines as "a reimagining of sovereignty that brings control to tribal nations and encompasses political status, resistance, cultural values, and traditions" (xxxii). She is refreshingly honest about her own personal investment in these determinants of tribal citizenship: although born and raised on the White Earth Reservation, she lacks the one-quarter blood quantum required for tribal enrolment. This personal investment in her project adds significantly to the motivation of her analyses, not least when she turns to the recent changes to tribal enrolment at White Earth, in which she has been intensely involved.


Her scholarship is as impeccable as her arguments are powerful. The three substantive chapters cover the historical period from the early twentieth century to the present. Starting in 1913, with the federal investigation into land sales at White Earth (a consequence of the devastating allotment process during the previous years), Doerfler interviewed hundreds of individuals to learn their attitudes towards tribal belonging and in particular blood quantum. The second chapter centers on the formation of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe in 1936 and the move to a one-quarter blood-quantum requirement for citizenship in 1961 (the policy that excluded Doerfler from tribal citizenship). Here, she has researched exhaustively the holdings of the National Archives Records Administration to determine precisely the pressures to which tribal leaders were subject as they decided in favor of this key change in citizenship requirements. The final analytical chapter is structured around the events beginning in 2007 as the White Earth Nation began the process of drafting a new Constitution and reforming citizenship requirements to bring them into line with traditional Anishinaabe values. In this chapter, Doerfler draws on her personal experience of disseminating information about the process (through articles published in the tribal newspaper, Anishinaabeg Today, and presentations at constitutional conventions) and her participation in the drafting of the new Constitution, which was approved in November 2013 with a majority of nearly 80% in favor of the reforms.


The story that Doerfler tells, with elegance and precision, is deeply engaging as well as highly informative. The substantive portion of the book is relatively brief and, as a consequence, Those Who Belong represents not only a major contribution to scholarship but also promises to be a very useful teaching resource. The book is completed by a series of very helpful appendices: the revised Constitution and Bylaws of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and the Constitution of the White Earth Nation. These documents enhance the value of this outstanding book for scholars and students alike.


Deborah Madsen, University of Geneva