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.
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