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Pseudo-Science to steal land

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

In 1906, Congress passed an Act (amended in 1907), authorizing mixed-blood Indians on White Earth Reservation, Minnesota, to sell the lands which the Government had previously allotted to them. Many of the mixed-bloods sold all or part of their allotments since the passage of the act. However, in time, the Government suspected that in the sale of certain lands fraud had been committed intentionally by the original white purchaser, the mixed-blood seller, or both.

In 1910, the US Justice Department began to bring suits against the present white owners of more than 1,300 pieces of such land—whether or not the present owners were the original purchasers who bought the land from the mixed-blood allotees.

​Both the Government and the defendants in these suits spent significant time and resources trying to ascertain the facts as to the blood status of the original White Earth members who sold their land as mixed-bloods. The method that was normally used was to take testimony from the mixed-bloods, incorporating such “evidence” as physical appearance, genealogy, and family ‘reputation’ as it related to their genealogy and blood status. Despite the evidence collected, which usually weighed in favor of the mixed-blood and against the defendants, additional information was sought to protect the claims of the white men who bought the land. Thus, the defendants then sought to determine the blood status of the mixed-bloods by using atavistic anthropometric methods.

​In 1914, Albert Jenks of the University of Minnesota, was called upon to provide an “expert” opinion on behalf of the defendants. His work sought to try to determine blood status/blood degree using eugenic and atavistic “scientific” methods that were popularized by Samuel Morton (and others) to try to determine the face-breadth head-breadth index of a sampling of mixed-bloods from Red Lake, Bois Fort/Nett Lake, Mille Lacs, Cass Lake, Leech Lake, Lake Winnibegoshish, and Bowstring Lake, Minnesota, and from the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, to see if this index could be introduced as a means of determining the blood status, or blood-quantum of mixed-blood Indians.

Jenks conducted his research at White Earth in 1914, before moving on to Bois Fort and Nett Lake over the winter of 1914-1915, Minnesota. The remainder of his work was performed over 1915-1916. His work included measuring the head breadth and length, face breadth and height, nasal breadth and length, color of eyes, skin and hair, texture and quantity of hair, and nature of incisor teeth.

His work is typical of the various methods used by the Government and others to try to separate, classify, and eventually destroy tribal communities in America and was one of the many tools used to justify the use of blood quantum as a means of restricting, erasing and eliminating Indigenous people in America, and for stealing land from indigenous people.

SOURCE: Jenks, A. (1916) Indian-white Amalgamation: an Anthropometric Study by Albert Ernest Jenks, Ph.D. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

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