Tag Archives: BIA

BIA Pressed on Freedmen Status

CRITICS OF CHEROKEES
U.S. Reps. Diane Watson: As part of the effort to build a record that could lead to a hearing, they have laid out a series of questions in a letter concerning the status of the freedmen and the tribe.

By JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
7/6/2008
Last Modified: 7/6/2008 4:34 AM

A congressional hearing is apparently the goal.WASHINGTON — Congressional critics of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma continue to press a federal agency concerning the status of the descendants of the tribe’s freedmen.

One of their major goals apparently is to force the controversial issue before a congressional hearing.

The Cherokee Nation believes such a hearing should be viewed as “blatant interference” by lawmakers if it is scheduled before pending litigation is resolved.

As part of their effort to build a record that could lead to a hearing, U.S. Reps. Diane Watson, D-Calif., the most vocal critic of the Cherokee Nation in Congress, and John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, laid out a series of questions concerning the status of the freedmen and the tribe in a letter to George Skibine. Skibine is the acting head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Their questions range from the legal status of the freedmen and the processing of citizenship applications to the BIA’s actions to protect freedmen’s rights and the federal government’s take on the Cherokee constitution.

Noting a March meeting with Skibine’s predecessor, Carl Artman, the two lawmakers cite complaints they had passed on then that the BIA had failed to take action to protect rights of the freedmen, former slaves of Cherokees.

Watson and Conyers’ letter was dated June 3, but a copy was released several days ago.

It followed a May 22 letter from Artman to them and two other key lawmakers who also were at the meeting.

In his letter, Artman, who has since left office, told the lawmakers the BIA will not take further action on the long-running freedmen controversy until the litigation is resolved.

A group of freedmen filed the lawsuit challenging a vote by the Cherokee Nation to remove freedmen descendants from tribal rolls.

Watson, who believes the Cherokee Nation would be in violation of an 1866 treaty if it expels the freedmen, made it clear she was not satisfied with Artman’s response.

When asked about the letter to Skibine, Watson aide Bert Hammond said the lawmakers wanted more responses from the BIA in writing so a record could be established.

Hammond said that could lead to a congressional hearing.

The BIA did not respond to a request for a comment on the letter from Watson and Conyers.

In a written statement, the Cherokee Nation expressed opposition to scheduling a hearing before the litigation is resolved.

“With all due respect to the prerogatives of members of Congress, it is clear that a hearing would be a blatant interference by politicians in the litigation on these very issues currently in the federal and tribal courts,” tribe spokesman Mike Miller said.

“No matter what your opinion is on the merits, it would be inappropriate to have a hearing before the courts decide.”

Still, the tribe backed the effort to provide additional information to lawmakers.

“We think the more information that members of Congress have, the clearer it will be that the Cherokee Nation’s actions have been consistent with our treaty obligations, our constitution, and federal and tribal laws and court decisions,” Miller said.

He expressed hope that lawmakers also come to realize that Congress already has passed laws in 1902 and 1906 to remove freedmen descendants as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

Miller said the tribe is now in the position of being forced into giving non-Indian freedmen something that Congress took away more than 100 years ago.

“We also hope they understand that cutting our federal funding will take away health care, housing and education assistance for thousands of low-income Indians and non-Indian freedmen descendants who have temporarily reinstated in the tribe,” he said.

Watson and others have pushed legislation designed to withhold federal funds as a way to force the tribe to drop its efforts on the freedmen.

A potential impasse on that issue may put at risk a housing bill supported by tribes across the country.

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Jim Myers (202) 484-1424
jim.myers@tulsaworld.com

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BIA: Wait Until the Courts Decide

BIA Tells Congress It Will Wait for Courts To Decide Non-Indian Citizenship Issue

WASHINGTON,  D.C. – The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has told several U.S. House of Representatives Members that it will wait until federal courts have decided whether non-Indians have treaty rights to citizenship before deciding whether to take any action regarding non-Indian Freedmen descendants and the Cherokee Nation.

Signed by former U.S. Department of Interior Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Carl Artman, the letter was sent to U.S. Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC), U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich) in response to a meeting they had with Artman in March. 

“The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has before it a case that will help determine the status and the rights of the Freemen[sic].  The Department will await the final outcome of this case prior to taking any further action with regards to the Freedmen,” Artman wrote.

“Since the Cherokee Nation has fully complied with the Treaty of 1866, it’s the right thing to do,” said Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

The BIA letter is consistent with the historic practice of the BIA acknowledging the Cherokee Nation’s right to require that citizens have an Indian ancestor on the Dawes Rolls of the Cherokee Nation, a federal census that concluded in 1906. 

The letter is also consistent with congressional and federal court precedent.  In 1902 and 1906, Congress passed laws that clearly removed non-Indians, including Freedmen descendants, as citizens in the Cherokee Nation.  Subsequent federal court decisions, including by the U.S. Supreme Court, confirmed that Congress changed the meaning of treaty rights for Freedmen descendants.  In spite of these historical facts, some Members of Congress want to punish the Cherokee Nation through scorched-earth legislation to force it into giving tribal rights to non-Indian Freedmen descendants that Congress itself removed more than 100 years ago.

Artman’s letter also answered questions raised by the Members of Congress, assuring them that: disenrolled non-Indian Freedmen descendants have been temporarily reinstated as citizens of the Cherokee Nation pending the outcome of litigation; they are eligible for and are receiving health, education, housing, and other social services; and they may register to vote in tribal elections. 

            “We hope Congress follows the BIA’s example of waiting for the courts to decide before taking premature punitive action against the Cherokee Nation that will cut nearly $300 million in federal funding for elderly, young, infirm and low-income Indians,” Smith said.