This fall, a professor at the University of Minnesota is switching her focus from African and African American studies to American Indian racialization, an area of research that hasn’t been heavily explored.
Enid Logan, a University sociology professor, is beginning her research as part of a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study. Logan is combining the study of American Indians and sociology by looking at how different tribal nations and the federal government define race.
“In the discipline of sociology and in the wider public discourse on race … American Indians are largely absent from it,” Logan said. “They’re not just any other additional group because of their very important foundational role [in] the establishment of what it is for the U.S. to be a nation.”
This includes seeing Native American tribes as their own governmental entities rather than just another race, especially considering their claim to American lands before the arrival of European settlers.
Carolyn Liebler is also a professor in the University’s sociology department and studied a similar subject. She said although American Indians are federally defined as a race, this ignores the fact that American Indians are self-governing tribes.
“I study the racial identity of people who have some American Indian background,” Liebler said. “So when I do that from a sociological perspective, I’m saying, ‘Well who’s telling you what race you are? Why do they think they can tell you that? Why do you listen to them?’”
One concept Logan emphasizes in her research is blood quantum, which is used to measure a person's native ancestry. The federal government first used blood quantum as a way to diminish American Indian identities and is still being self-enforced by certain tribes, Logan said.
Under the measurement of blood quantum, if someone has one parent who is fully Native American while the other is not, the child is then considered one-half Native American in the tribe.
“There’s almost no way for indigeneity and for American Indian people not to be vanishing or disappearing under the logic of blood quantum,” Logan said. “What this accomplishes historically is that the fewer American Indian people that there are, then the fewer people there are to make any counterclaim over territory.”
Another aspect Logan is focusing on is an individual’s enrollment in a Native American tribe. Following the Dawes Rolls, a tribe membership list filed in the late 1890s, some Native Americans have to prove a relational tie to the tribe, such as a tie to a parent.
However, David Chang, the department chair of American Indian Studies at the University, clarifies that the necessity of blood quantum and enrollment rules aren’t present within all tribes.
“It is true that some tribal nations (“tribes”) have minimum ancestry rules,” Chang wrote in an email to the Minnesota Daily. “But other tribal nations do not — including the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, which is the second largest tribal nation in the U.S.”
Logan acknowledged that Chang is pointing out the more nuanced details about specific tribes in comparison to the overall picture.
“I think he’s trying to talk about the present day and the future of different tribes,” Logan said about Chang’s comments. “I’m mainly talking about the construction of indigenous identity by settler colonial powers through laws, wars, science and medicine.”
Chang wrote American Indian Studies as a whole encompasses a wide variety of subject areas, including art, language, politics, history and migration.
“In American Indian studies, we work really hard to avoid imprecise generalizations, which have done a lot of damage to American Indian people,” Chang said in an email. “I am delighted Professor Logan is entering … the conversation among American Indian Studies scholars about the politics of American Indian identity and its relationship to racialization.”