Sources & Definitions


Absentee Voting

Voting without being in the polling place itself, usually by mail before the day of the election

Blood Quantum

The history of blood quantum as an instrument of measuring one’s “Indianness” dates back to the colonial period. Eventually adopted by the federal government as a tool to identify how much “Indian blood” one possessed, the standard qualification of who was or was not Indian revolved around one-quarter or more blood quantum. Today we know that blood quantum has no scientific basis, yet the historic legacy of blood quantum continues to plague tribal and federal politics. Many tribes were forced to adopt a one-quarter blood quantum as a standard measure of tribe membership because the federal government dictated the measure in interactions, treaties and eventually in tribal constitutions. Today, as more and more tribes work to revise their constitutions, some are moving away from blood quantum as a measure of membership and toward more traditional forms of belonging (i.e. familial descent)


A clan is a system of organization used by some American Indian tribes. The Ojibwe, for example, use a patrilineal based clan system to determine such things as social roles within the tribe, to guide inter-tribal relations like marriage and as a form of identity. Within each clan there are also clan leaders who provide guidance and serve important traditional, cultural and political roles


Shared by all members of a community

Eastern Great Lakes Region

Region that includes sections of eight U.S. states (Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia)


The process of handing something down within a family

Indian Reorganization Act (IRA)

The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, also known as the Indian New Deal, ended the process of allotment that had broken up tribal lands and worked to put Indian people back in control of tribal affairs. The IRA promoted self-government of tribal nations by providing tribes with constitutions designed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Today, the IRA is remembered with mixed reactions. Though the IRA did end the devastating process of allotment and though it did work to put Indian people in control of tribal affairs, it fell short. The constitutions tribes were encouraged to adopt perpetuated the federal government’s paternalism of Indian nations and were often incompatible with more traditional forms of tribal governance

Indigenous peoples

People native to a land, in the U.S. the indigenous peoples are often referred to as American Indians or Native Americans


Buildings, roads and other physical structures that let society work


Kinship is another system of organization common among most American Indian tribes. Kinship moves beyond one’s immediate family to also include extended familial relations, clan members of both one’s mother and father and other important built relationships. A system of kinship also necessitates social obligations to one another


A question or policy that is put on a ballot for citizens to vote on directly.

Secret Ballot Election

A method of voting that ensures that all votes are cast in secret, so that the voter is not influenced by any other individual, and at the time of voting no one else knows who the voter chose

Sovereign Nations

Self-governing regions that can administer their own public assets


The ability and authority to self-govern without interference

Tribal Constitutions

 Much like the U.S. constitution and state constitution, individual tribes also possess written tribal constitutions that may be amended and/or revised. Tribal constitutions guide tribal governments and include sections on tribal enrollment/citizenship, the selection/election of tribal leaders, the procedure of tribal elections, the roles and limits of tribal government, and protect the rights of tribal citizens. Importantly, tribal constitutions simultaneously confirm and carryout/apply sovereignty by protecting tribal lands, language, culture, religion and traditions

Read More

Web Sources

Print Sources

  • David E. Wilkins and K. Tsianina Lomawaima, Uneven Ground: American Indian Sovereignty and Federal Law. (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001), 225-226.

Additional Resources