Native American Intermarriage Puts Benefits At Risk More than half of all Native Americans don't marry other natives. As tribal members continue to intermarry, tribes may not be able to maintain their population and identity. Intermarriage can also lead to a loss of federal benefits.
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Native American Intermarriage Puts Benefits At Risk

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Native American Intermarriage Puts Benefits At Risk

Native American Intermarriage Puts Benefits At Risk

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Census data also show that Native Americans marry-out at higher rates than any other group in the U.S. But the Eastern Shoshone of Wyoming, require tribal members to be at least a quarter Native American. That requirement may mean a loss of both population and identity, as Wyoming Public Radio's Tristan Ahtone reports.

TRISTAN AHTONE: Amanda LeClair pulls up a photo on her computer of herself and her boyfriend, Martin Antonio Diaz. They're standing in front of a lake, surrounded by trees. The two met when one of LeClair's sorority sisters introduced them three years ago.

AMANDA LECLAIR: So this one, we were in Fort Collins with my friend Gabby, that's the one who introduced us...

AHTONE: At the time LeClair was getting her bachelor's degree at the University of Wyoming. Diaz was working at a local restaurant.

LECLAIR: Well when Martin first met me he thought I was Mexican. And so, he was really kind of like why don't you speak Spanish? And I just was like, I just don't, like why are you asking me that?

AHTONE: Diaz's family calls Jalisco, Mexico home. LeClair grew up on Wyoming's Wind River Indian Reservation, and is an enrolled Shoshone Tribal Member. That means she meets the blood requirement to be a Shoshone citizen. After dating for a while, Diaz says things got more serious.

MARTIN ANTONIO DIAZ: She kept like staying more and more and more regularly and we finally just decided, hey, well, why don't we get like our own place and see how things work out? And, so far so good.

AHTONE: They've discussed marriage, kids and the future, but here's the rub: LeClair is half Shoshone. If she has children with Diaz, their children will only be one quarter Native American. That's the minimum amount of blood required to be enrolled in the Shoshone tribe. So if their children marry someone non-native as well, their grandkids would technically not be Indians. It's an issue that troubles LeClair.

LECLAIR: 'Cause I'm not going to teach them, you know, you need to marry a Native person because, you know, after a quarter your kids can't be enrolled, and I don't - like I don't want to teach them that, but I kind of have wondered like is that going to be an issue, or, you know, am I going to feel kind of sad if they end up having kids with somebody else.

AHTONE: And there are consequences to intermarrying. Debra Donahue is a professor of Indian law at the University of Wyoming.

DEBRA DONAHUE: The protections and benefits that go to tribal members or to people who qualify as Indians on the federal side can be significant.

AHTONE: Such as access to free health care, education and land ownership. It can even affect child custody cases. For many tribes, continuing high rates of intermarriage could become a huge issue in the future: for tribes to remain as fully functioning nations, with governments, Donahue says they need to have a population.

DONAHUE: But if a tribe were concerned about losing population, because of intermarriage, they could adjust their membership requirements to ensure that they maintain membership. But that's really a cultural choice for the tribes, themselves, to make.

AHTONE: And many have. For instance, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma allows anyone who can prove they are a tribal descendent to become a citizen.

LECLAIR: ...about my birthday, from like two years ago I think, or a year...

AHTONE: Despite the numbers, blood requirements and federal regulations, Amanda LeClair says that being Indian is more than blood, its culture - and something that Martin is embracing.

ANTONIO DIAZ: It is nice. For me, like, I really appreciate that they teach me a lot about their, like, culture or like take me to ceremonies or special events that they have up there. So, that's really nice.

LECLAIR: I think if he wasn't as understanding maybe you would see it more as marrying-out, but since he is really respectful and he's just kind of like, you know, he's willing to listen. He's willing to learn. I think it's more incorporating.

AHTONE: For NPR News, I'm Tristan Ahtone, in Laramie.



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