More than half of all Natives marry members of other groups. That is the highest rate of intermarriage of any group in the U.S., NPR’s Tristan Ahtone reports.
Those figures cast obvious questions on the future of tribal nations: Who can be considered a tribal member, who can receive benefits and what a dwindling population could do to tribal governments?
Ahtone’s report tells the story of Amanda LeClair (Shoshone) Martin Antonio Diaz (non-Native). The young couple is in love, although LeClair can’t help but remind herself that if her children marry a non-tribal member, then her grandchildren could be considered non-members.
It’s concerning to LeClair. But like the statistic show, it’s not unusual.
By way of comparison, according to census data, nearly 95 percent of whites marry other white people, and more than 85 percent of African-Americans marry other black people.
David Wilkins, a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota, says that intermarriage has always been the norm. “It just shows that Native individuals, due to the small population size of most indigenous communities, frequently find that they have to reach outside of their local community to find a partner suitable for marriage — hence the high degree of intermarriage,” says Wilkins.
But there are consequences to intermarrying, according to Debra Donahue, a professor of Indian law at the University of Wyoming.
“The protections and benefits that do go to tribal members or to people who qualify as Indians on the federal side can be significant,” says Donahue.
You can listen to NPR’s story here.