Blood Will Tell


Blood Will Tell

Native Americans and Assimilation Policy

Katherine Ellinghaus

New Visions in Native American and Indigenous Studies Series

234 pages
5 illustrations, index

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August 2017


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August 2017


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August 2017


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May 2022


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About the Book

Blood Will Tell reveals the underlying centrality of “blood” that shaped official ideas about who was eligible to be defined as Indian by the General Allotment Act in the United States. Katherine Ellinghaus traces the idea of blood quantum and how the concept came to dominate Native identity and national status between 1887 and 1934 and how related exclusionary policies functioned to dispossess Native people of their land. The U.S. government’s unspoken assumption at the time was that Natives of mixed descent were undeserving of tribal status and benefits, notwithstanding that Native Americans of mixed descent played crucial roles in the national implementation of allotment policy. 

Ellinghaus explores on-the-ground case studies of Anishinaabeg, Arapahos, Cherokees, Eastern Cherokees, Cheyennes, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, Lakotas, Lumbees, Ojibwes, Seminoles, and Virginia tribes. Documented in these cases, the history of blood quantum as a policy reveals assimilation’s implications and legacy. The role of blood quantum is integral to understanding how Native Americans came to be one of the most disadvantaged groups in the United States, and it remains a significant part of present-day debates about Indian identity and tribal membership. Blood Will Tell is an important and timely contribution to current political and scholarly debates.


Author Bio

Katherine Ellinghaus has a Hansen Lectureship in History in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of Taking Assimilation to Heart: Marriages of White Women and Indigenous Men in Australia and the United States, 1887–1937 (Nebraska, 2006) and coeditor of Historicising Whiteness: Transnational Perspectives on the Construction of Identity.


"Blood Will Tell is a valuable contribution to studies of the allotment era in particular and to studies of U.S.–American Indian relations and settler colonialism in general."—John R. Gram, Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"Ellinghaus's work shines a light on a crucial component of federal Indian policy."—Christopher Steinke, Nebraska History

"This book makes a significant contribution to how we interpret assumptions about ethnicity, skin color, and cultural behavior—from low-level civil servants to official ideology to indigenous notions of identity. It is a welcome addition to furthering our understanding of blood quantum and Native American policy."—Ryan W. Schmidt, Great Plains Quarterly

"Ellinghaus offers this book as a means for critiquing and analyzing the phenomenon of settler colonialism which allowed for tropes of authenticity to persist to today. It also adds to the story of Native Americans' unrelenting resistance with racial science and white structures. In light of the semi-recent events at Standing Rock, Native American persistence throughout history is again highlighted by their ability to resist and act against their oppressors."—Hannah Blubaugh, Origins

"Blood Will Tell makes a brilliant and original contribution to historical scholarship on Indians, race, and settler colonialism in western American history and merits a wide readership."—Baligh Ben Taleb, Pacific Historical Review

“Katherine Ellinghaus brilliantly traces the uneven practices that produced a powerful discourse of American Indian blood quantum. With sure hand and subtle interpretation, Blood Will Tell offers a compelling new reading of a technology of identity at once complicated and crude.”—Philip J. Deloria, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Collegiate Professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and author of Indians in Unexpected Places

“Written with great clarity and precision. . . . Ellinghaus develops several key insights that will make contributions to historical scholarship on Indians, race, and western American history.”—Margaret Jacobs, Chancellor’s Professor of History at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and author of A Generation Removed: The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous Children in the Postwar World 

“A triumph of humanistic scholarship. . . . Many of the topics Ellinghaus covers are of salience to contemporary debates about race and racism.”—Gregory Smithers, author of Science, Sexuality, and Race in the United States and Australia, 1780–1940, Revised Edition?

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
Introduction: The Discourse of Blood in the Assimilation Period    
1. Fraud: The Allotment of the Anishinaabeg    
2. Chaos: The Dawes Commission and the Five Tribes    
3. Practically White: The Federal Policy of Competency    
4. The Same Old Deal: The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act    
5. Colored: The Indian Nations of Virginia and the 1924 Racial Integrity Act    
Conclusion: Writing Blood into the Assimilation Period    

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