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WINNEBAGO, Neb. -- Members of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska have overwhelmingly voted to expand their definition of tribal membership.

Previously, the tribe required at least one-quarter Winnebago blood relationship to qualify as an enrolled member. Now, those who have a parent or grandparent that belongs to the tribe can count blood relationship with other federally recognized tribes to meet the one-fourth "blood quantum" criteria.

Tribal Council Chairman John Blackhawk said the expanded definition could add several hundred to the membership rolls, many of them children and young adults. Some offspring of tribal members who intermarried with other tribes, for instance, are just short of meeting the current criteria.

"When you look at blood quantum, it only takes three generations to be less than a quarter because you're dividing every time," he said. "A lot of these younger kids, you can tell they're Native American, they might be part Winnebago, part Omaha, part Sioux ..."

Blackhawk said the tribe, which currently has around 4,100 enrolled members, has been working on the issue for at least five years. Last November, the tribal council advanced the expanded definition to a Secretarial Election, overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The election results were tallied Thursday, Blackhawk said. Of the approximate 400 voters who cast ballots by mail, just over 300 approved the change.

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Blackhawk said the tribal council office in Winnebago, Neb., has been flooded with calls since the results became known.

"Everyone is very, very happy and satisfied with it," he said.

To officially make the change, the tribe must now amend its constitution. Blackhawk said that detailed process should take at least two weeks.

After that's finished, forms will be made available for those wanting to apply for membership under the expanded definition.

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