My Body Is a Math Problem for Those Blood Quantum Mechanics

One of the frustrating elements of U.S. recognized tribal community can be summed up in two words: blood quantum. For tribes (like mine) who hold strict requirements for citizenship, the proof of your Nativeness often starts with the fraction included on a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood. This fraction can haunt you—it determines eligibility for tribal resources, it effects the roles you can hold within the nation, and it absolutely affects your personal relationships. Spending the first half of my life without tribal citizenship, only to gain this distinction once our tribe lowered the blood quantum minimum, I’ve experienced both sides of the divide.

My first memory of having blood quantum problems happened when I was four. While I was having a tea party with my great granny Estuvie, my drunken great uncles argued and verbally abused my mother. They make fun of her and my uncle because they do not understand enough Spanish or Comanche. They blame my grandparents for making them too white. They say that I will never amount to anything because I’m even whiter, and how stupid my mother and grandfather were for marrying worthless whites. We leave. My grandfather cut ties with his brothers after that long, loud battle. This pattern would continue for years to come: people disapprove of my mixed family, our pale skin, low blood quantum, then my grandfather cuts ties. Sometimes this happens with a shake of his head. More often, it occurs after a fist fight or long yelling match. Sometimes it’s relatives or close friends. Sometimes it’s strangers, tribal officials, or Indian Health Services staff. Occasionally we get thrown out or banned from events, public places, and private homes. Other times, we leave quickly on our own, never to return.

When I became a teenager, my family started requesting grand babies. Mother and grandmother try to build love matches with men they know. They find me obstinate. Soon enough, relationships become a constant occupation of classmates as well. The pressure to create heteronormative romantic partnerships and babies becomes unrelenting. I try my best to avoid these discussions. When pressed to identify a crush, I often pick a random guy instead of being honest about any sexual attractions I might have. Few friends believe me when I say that I don’t have an interest in having babies or finding a sexual partner. Besides, honesty about attraction could be dangerous. There wasn’t a single self identified queer in our town and suspected ones found regular beatings a part of their life. Not feeling sexual attraction toward anyone was queer enough to start fights, just like the potential proof of interest in the wrong people. Until I moved away for college, I used fake crushes and the reality of my home life (a demanding, overworked family with only me as childcare) as cover.

Few people I talked to cared about the blood quantum of potential partners until college. Suddenly, I was surrounded by Indigenous students. Native girls spend their lunches adding up blood quantum fractions, trying to figure out whether any babies will make the requirements for their tribe or their new boyfriend’s tribe. I nickname them the BQMs (Blood Quantum Mechanics). Taking blood quantum this seriously made me laugh, as did all the imaginary babies. Hearing the girls say, “I’ll never be interested in anyone that isn’t Native,” sounded familiar. Blood quantum, like so many other factors, seemed an arbitrary barrier in sex concerns. I didn’t understand how anyone thought to control their sexual attraction in such ways. It had never worked that way for me. My desires had few, if any, barriers. Tribal affiliation certainly wasn’t one. Sure, I could control whether or not to act based on my desires, but the interest itself was uncontrollable. It was so uncontrollable that occasionally perceptive people could recognize these desires in me whether I wished them to or not.

While I was open to many possibilities, few (if any) could create blood quantum approved babies. More Comanche babies meant a stronger tribe, and while I was told I had this responsibility both before and after gaining tribal citizenship, I’ve never seen it effect my sexual desires or actions. Even having the necessary parts, they refuse to be used in such manner. My body houses too much already. Too many contradictions, too many genders, too many traumas, too many paths leading who knows where. There is no space for another being to fill, even short term.

Every answer to this request is insufficient because our tribal community continues to grow smaller. The question, its need, is ever constant. Because there’s only one way those fractions can go long term without forceful intervention, with or without my womb. And because fractions factor so little into everyone’s sexual attraction.

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