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Bureau of Indian Affairs

U.S. Department of the Interior INDIAN ANCESTRY

Thousands of people throughout the United States have some degree of Indian blood. However, unless such an individual has at least one parent legally entitled to membership in a federally recognized Indian tribe, it is improbable that he/she can qualify for special federal services available to Indians or share in assets owned by an Indian tribe. The burden of proof of Indian ancestry rests with the individual claiming possession of Indian blood.

Many people are descended from eastern tribes that disbanded before the present Government of the United States came into being in 1789. As a result, there are no existing Indian groups with which these individuals can affiliate. Other, descended from western tribes, but cannot substantiate their claim to membership in an Indian tribe due to lack of early family records.

Contrary to popular belief, Indians do not receive payments from the federal government simply because they have Indian blood. Funds distributed to a person of Indian descent may represent income from his/her own property collected for him/her by an agent of the United States. Other disbursements to individuals may represent compensation for lands taken in connection with governmental projects, comparable to payments made to non-Indians for the acquisition of land for governmental purposes. Some Indian tribes receive income from the utilization of tribal timber and other reservation resources, a percentage of which may be distributed as per capita among the tribes membership. Individual tribal members also share in the money paid to the tribes by the federal government in fulfillment of treaty obligations. Money available for payments belongs either to the tribe or to an individual and is held in trust by the federal government. In this event, Government checks are issued in making payment to individuals or to the tribes.

To be eligible to receive payment from tribal funds, a person, in addition to possessing Indian blood, must be a recognized member of the Indian tribe whose money is being distributed. Generally, responsibility for establishing this membership lies with the tribe and the individual. Indian tribes establish their own enrollment criteria.

Some early records or censuses of Indian bands, tribes, or groups are on file at the National Archives and Records Service, Natural Resources Branch, Civil Archives Division (Eighth and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20408). These records, identified by tribes, are dated chiefly from 1830 to 1940. To search records, the Archivist must be given the name of the Indian in question (preferably both his English and his Indian name), his date of birth, and the name of his tribe. Names of his parents and grandparents should also be given. If ancestry is unknown, there are private research sources that are available. The credibility of the research service should be established before securing the service by contacting local offices of the Better Business Bureau.

The Central Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs does not maintain comprehensive lists of persons possessing Indian blood or enrollment data of every federally recognized Indian tribe. However, copies of census and membership rolls may be on file in the Bureau's field offices. A list of these offices can be obtained from the directory "AREA OFFICES." The Area Office list identifies the states over which a particular Area Office has jurisdiction.

If proof of membership in a particular tribe is desired, inquiry should be made to the particular tribe.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs publishes a list of federally recognized Indian tribes in the Federal Register. The latest publication was on February 16, 1995, (60 F.R. 9249), which can be obtained from most libraries, or accessed on the World Wide Web, Internet, at

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(Rev. 4/19/96)


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Created 11 January 1998