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Winnebago Tribe seeks change to blood quantum requirement
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Winnebago Tribe seeks change to blood quantum requirement

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WINNEBAGO, Nebraska | A proposed change to Winnebago tribal enrollment could shift the future makeup of the northeast Nebraska tribe.

The tribe's current blood quantum law, or required minimum of Native American ancestry, calls for enrolled members to be at least one-fourth Indian. However, the rule doesn't specify a minimum amount of Winnebago lineage.

For the last seven years, that has resulted in members of other tribes from around the country enrolling as Winnebago members, said Phyllis Ware, the tribe's enrollment manager.

"We had 113 people that relinquished from other tribes to come here since 2009," Ware said. "It's diluting the Winnebago blood."

Tribal leaders have proposed that future members be at least one-eighth Winnebago, as well as one-fourth Native. Existing Winnebago members who don't meet the new requirements would be allowed to retain their membership, as well the voting rights and financial benefits that go with it.

The blood quantum change, which would require approval of current enrolled members in a special election, would also allow applicants to appeal enrollment decisions to the Winnebago tribal court, rather than the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

An informational meeting about the proposed amendment will be held 5 p.m. Thursday at Educare Winnebago, 317 Frenchman St.

Tribal officials are hoping to hold the special election in July. The Bureau of Indian Affairs would oversee the election, which the Tribal Council requested in May 2015, said Danelle Smith, an attorney for the tribe.

Smith said enrolled Winnebago members ages 18 and older, regardless of residency, will be eligible to vote. Tribe members must register to vote in the special election. The measure would require a simple majority for passage.

Prior to 2009, the tribe required at least one-quarter Winnebago blood relationship to qualify as an enrolled member. An amendment approved that year was designed to allow a parent or grandparent that belonged to the tribe to count blood relationship with other federally recognized tribes to meet the blood quantum criteria.

At that time, some offspring of tribal members who intermarried with members of other tribes, for example, were just short of meeting the blood quantum criteria. The expanded definition added hundreds to the membership rolls, many of them children and young adults.

"When they changed it back in 2009, they didn't realize they didn't set a minimum amount of Winnebago blood," Ware said. "You could have 1 percent Winnebago blood and 99 percent whatever tribe."

The tribe currently has 5,260 enrolled members. Prior to the 2009 change, enrollment stood at around 4,100.

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