Burton: Don’t let blood quantum erase my culture

Kiley Burton.

By Kiley Burton
For The Cordova Times

Kiley Burton, a student at Cordova Jr./Sr. High School, delivered the following youth keynote speech at the Oct. 11-14 First Alaskans Institute Annual Elders & Youth Conference.


Iishuh, hello, I’m Kiley Burton, and my native name is Kanat given to me by my Grandpa which means little wolverine. I am Koyukon Athabaskan, Eyak, Inuit and of Northern European descent. Though I am most familiar with my Athabaskan culture, I am on Eyak territory. I was born in Alaska and raised in Cordova. I grew up commercial fishing with my parents, and have loved it since. I’ve been active in my culture since a young age, started beading and skin sewing really early on. I made my first beaded flower and a little purse when I was 5.

Today, I chose to talk about the issue of blood quantum as it’s something I feel strongly about. I am just under the quarter blood quantum, which by government interpretation makes me not Native. Growing up my mom instilled in me to never let someone tell me that I am “not Native enough.” That is a phrase that’s stuck with me my whole life and continues to stick with me. When given the opportunity to speak at this event it was the first thing I thought of. This is something very important to we and for all of you, because blood quantum is a system set up to erase Indigenous people. Currently over 60 percent Alaskan Natives within the Gulf of Alaska are under the one-quarter blood quantum. Culture and identity branch from practices, language, and tradition. It gives a sense of belonging and purpose. For culture to survive it must have the ability to pass on knowledge to future generations. With blood quantum slowly terminating the next generation of Indigenous people, it will eliminate the culture and traditions of our people.

Blood quantum is the amount of native blood you have. Blood quantum was created by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) but was used since the colonization of Indigenous people to “bleed out the Savage.” The question I ask all of you is why. Why does the government want to erase our culture? Why does the government want to get rid of the Native population? Why have they removed our history from American textbooks? Would the government want to have their culture erased.

Many members of the Alaskan Native community are deeply concerned about the growing numbers of young tribal members who are unable to hunt or utilize marine mammals. Hunting marine mammals, proper hide preparation and skin sewing are essential components to Alaskan Native culture. These skills are passed down from generation to generation and are crucial to culture. Federal regulations are trying to criminalize us from participating in these traditions, even though it’s a skill that has been passed down for thousands of years. When I was younger I saw my uncle going hunting with his friends and I wanted to go. I asked my mom if I could hunt too and she said “if it’s something you want to do I’ll continue to fight for you.” I was confused because I didn’t see why she had to fight for me to be able to do something she can do.

Alaskan Native people rely on our cultural traditions. Raven Cunningham has said, “blood quantum is a hidden safety net that is placed into the fabric of treaties to ensure that benefits would be terminated. With blood quantum still used as an identifier of Native people, they will one day lose their status and recognition. The moment when Tribal Members are no longer Native enough based on colonial tactics that were established to assimilate is the moment Indigneous people are bred out of existence.” Now as I speak to all of you, I hope this resonates within you. I know I want to teach my kids the cultural traditions that have been passed down to me. I want them to know who their ancestors are and where they come from. I’ll leave you with one more question. How can we do that legally when we have all these regulations in place?

An Instagram screenshot of Kiley Burton’s streamed youth keynote speech for First Alaskan Instutute’s Elders & Youth Conference.