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By Law and By Blood

Native nations have fought hard for self-determination, for the right to govern themselves and make their own laws. It is their right to decide who may be officially accepted as a member of the tribe.

Tribal regulations concerning these decisions often require a certain degree of Native ancestry, kinship, and/or proof of descent from an ancestor listed on an official membership roll. Many African-Native American people lack the documentation they need to prove their claim, and they feel unfairly excluded by these rules. Both sides have a case. But in the end, it is the Native nations who decide tribal membership, while personal expressions of identity are an individual choice.

Mildred and Richard Loving

Mildred and Richard Loving—who may marry whom?

Mildred Loving, who was of mixed African American and Rappahannock Indian heritage, was deemed a Negro under Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. She and her white husband, Richard, were arrested in 1958 for violating state laws against interracial marriage.

Their case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor, overturning anti-miscegenation laws throughout the nation in 1967.

Photograph by Francis Miller/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images