Tag Archives: Freedmen

Freedmen Facts you Won’t Learn from the News

If you read mainstream media news reports about the Cherokee Freedmen, you may be scratching your head by now and wondering why the Cherokees are so racist.  How could they just up and kick all the black people out of the tribe?  They aren’t racists and they haven’t kicked out the black people.  You need to read this information. 

Who are the Cherokee Freedmen?-As you read about this group in current articles, it is important to define who they are.  The Cherokee Freedmen currently fighting for citizenship are descendants of former slaves held by some Cherokee individuals.  The Cherokee Freedmen as mentioned in current news articles are sometimes referred to as non-Indian Freedmen because they are not blood descendants of an individual listed on the Dawes Rolls as a By Blood Cherokee, Delaware, or Shawnee. 

Are the Cherokee Freedmen the descendants of Cherokee Nation’s slaves? -The Cherokee Nation never had slaves.  Some Cherokee individuals who lived in the Cherokee Nation did, though. In 1863, the Cherokee Nation emancipated all slaves within its territorial jurisdiction.  In 1866, those Freedmen and their descendants were made citizens of the Cherokee Nation.  Many freed slaves from around the United States flocked to Indian Territory following the Civil War, but only those Freedmen who were living in Cherokee Nation during a specific time frame were granted citizenship into the Cherokee Nation. 

Is the Cherokee Nation breaking the Treaty of 1866? –This is the major claim of the Freedmen suing for citizenship, but the Cherokee Nation asserts that this claim is false.  Ongoing court cases will determine whether or not the Cherokee Nation has broken the Treaty of 1866, and the Cherokee Nation has stated that it will abide by the court’s ruling. 

Here are the major points of both sides of the debate: 

Article 9 of the Treaty of 1866 stated, “…all freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law, as well as all free colored persons who were in the country at the commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months, and their descendants, shall have all the rights of native Cherokees.”  To the Freedmen, this means that they (as the descendants of former slaves and free colored persons) have the right to citizenship because of this article.

However, the Cherokee Nation argues that subsequent legislation reversed the terms of this Treaty.  One such reversal is seen in the Section 26 of the Congressional Act of 1902 which stated, “The names of all persons living on the first day of September, nine teen hundred and two, entitled to be enrolled as provided in section twenty-five hereof, shall be placed upon the roll made by said Commission, and no child born thereafter to a citizen, and no white person who has intermarried with a Cherokee citizen since the sixteenth day of December, eighteen hundred and ninety-five, shall be entitled to enrollment or to participate in the distribution of the tribal property of the Cherokee Nation.” 

Also, the Five Civilized Tribes Act of 1906 stated, “That after the approval of this Act no person shall be enrolled as a citizen or freedman of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, or Seminole tribes of Indians in the Indian Territory.”  According to this information, the Treaty of 1866 no longer held guarantees for the descendants for any citizens of the Cherokee Nation.  According to these acts, NO new citizens could be enrolled in the tribe:  Freedmen, Cherokee, or otherwise.  The next legislation that affected the citizenship status of descendants was the 1975 Cherokee Nation Constitution which set forth membership requirements for the tribe.  The Cherokee Nation Constitution was most recently updated in 2003 and can be accessed here.

Did the Dawes Commission put people on the Freedmen roll just because they looked black?– The short answer to this question is “No.”  Mainstream news media sometimes portray the Dawes Roll process like sorting socks… the white ones went on this list, the red ones went on this list, and the black ones went on this list.  This is a grossly false oversimplification of how the rolls were taken. 

In 1906 the Dawes Commission took a census of all citizens in the Cherokee Nation, dividing them into 5 major groups:  Cherokees by Blood, Adopted Shawnees by Blood, Adopted Delawares by Blood, Freedmen, and Intermarried Whites.  It is the descendants of those individuals listed on the Freedmen rolls that are currently suing for citizenship in the Cherokee Nation.

Individuals had to fill out applications and attend interviews in order to be placed on the rolls in any category.  According to the National Archives, two-thirds of Dawes Roll applicants were ultimately rejected.  Some rejections occurred because individuals could not provide sufficient proof of their ancestry or citizenship, others because their claims were obviously false. 

But currently the biggest complaints about the Dawes Rolls are in regards to the categories in which individuals were placed and the blood quantums that were recorded.  These “mistakes” occurred for the same reasons as the rejections did:  insufficient proof or false claims.  There were individuals who may have been part Cherokee but who ended up on the Freedmen or Intermarried Whites lists with no recorded blood quantum because they simply could not prove through required documentation that they had Cherokee ancestry.   There were individuals who provided to the Dawes Commission blood quanta that were lower than their actual blood quantum because they sought to protect themselves from having their assets controlled by the BIA (anyone with over 1/2 degree Cherokee blood was considered uncivilized and appointed an agent who took control of their financial affairs). 

There are undoubtedly individuals who were classified as Freedmen on the Final Rolls who did have Cherokee ancestry.  The same can be said for Intermarried Whites.  The Dawes Rolls were compiled based on what was proveable, not how people looked. 

How long had the Freedmen been members of the tribe? – The individuals who were affected by the 2007 vote had officially been members of the Cherokee Nation since the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2006 Lucy Allen case.  According to the opinion of the court, the wording of the Cherokee Nation’s constitution was not specific enough to require an ancestor on the by blood rolls, and therefore any laws requiring such were unconstitutional.  This opinion repealed a 1980’s citizenship law that required a By Blood ancestor and the acquisition of a CDIB card. 

The court ordered that “if the Cherokee people wish to limit tribal citizenship, and such limitation would terminate the pre-existing citizenship of even one Cherokee citizen, then it must be done in the open.”   As a result of the ruling, about 2,800 Freedmen and 9 Intermarried Whites descendants enrolled and were extended citizenship in the Cherokee Nation.  These individuals still receive tribal benefits while courts are deciding whether or not the 2007 vote of the Cherokee people can stand.

Why were the Freedmen removed from the tribe?- First, not only the Freedmen but also the Intermarried Whites descendants were removed.  The 2006 court ruling indicated that “The Constitution could be amended to require that all tribal members possess Cherokee blood,” but ordered any change in citizenship requirements to be done in the open.  Following this decision, a ballot initiative for the May 2007 elections was added regarding amending citizenship requirements in the Cherokee Nation Constitution.  However, citizens of the Cherokee Nation created a petition to hold a special election to vote specifically on citizenship requirements.  The petition garnered the required number of signatures, so on March 3, 2007, registered Cherokee voters as well as the Freedmen voted on whether or not the citizenship requirements on the Cherokee Nation’s constitution should be amended. 

By a margin of 77% to 23%, the voters decided that “citizenship would be limited to those who are original enrollees or descendants of Cherokees by blood, Delawares by blood, or Shawnees by blood as listed on the Final Rolls of the Cherokee Nation commonly referred to as the Dawes Commission Rolls closed in 1906. This amendment would take away citizenship of current citizens and deny citizenship to future applicants who are solely descendants of those on either the Dawes Commission Intermarried Whites or Freedmen Rolls.”  As is clearly stated in the wording on the ballot, the vote did not effect all Freedmen descendants, nor did it effect all black people in the tribe.  It affected only those who were “non-Indian” as proveable by the Dawes Rolls.  The Cherokee Nation estimates that it still has 1,500 tribal members who are the descendants of freed slaves.  Their citizenship was not affected by the vote because they ALSO have a descendant on a By Blood roll.

Are the Cherokees racists?-No.  There are undoubtedly racist Cherokees just like there are racists in every other cultural group.  But applying the racist label to all Cherokees or to the Chief of our Nation is very hurtful and quite undeserved.  The Chief and the tribe believe that all people are equal, but they do not believe that all people are Cherokees.  The efforts to make our tribe a tribe of Indians is not discriminatory; it is an effort to preserve our shared link to an ancient people that inhabited this continent before Europeans ever knew it existed.  It is an effort to honor the unique sacrifice and struggle of an indigenous people whose language and culture have been nearly exterminated by malicious federal and state legislation.  We see our Nation as a nation of the descendants of a pre-historic people, not as a political nation with geographical boundaries.   I, personally, am an Irish Cherokee married to a Mexican-American and an aunt to beautiful African-American Cherokee nephews.  I love my Mexican-American husband and my sister loves her African-American one, but I do not believe that either of these men are Cherokees.  It should also be noted that the Cherokee Nation will only grant citizenship to the adopted children of even full-blooded Cherokees only if a biological ancestor was on the Dawes rolls.  These examples point to the fact that the Cherokee Nation as an entity is not racist, it is merely striving to preserve its cultural heritage and lineage of the Aniyunwiya- the original Cherokee people.

Aren’t all Cherokees automatically citizens of the Cherokee Nation?- Not all Cherokees are citizens of the Cherokee Nation.  There were many Cherokees who chose not to sign the Dawes Rolls in the early 1900’s, so their descendants today are not eligible for citizenship.  Further, there are 3 different federally recognized Cherokee tribes in the United States, each of which have different tribal governments and different citizenship requirements.  To be a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, one must apply for citizenship (also called tribal registration) via an application and submission of the required legal documents. 

Why hasn’t the news written about any of these things?  –Communication studies have shown that the reporting on this issue has been largely one-sided.  Reporters omit historical facts and details because they are hard to capture in just a few words.  This controversy has been referred to as a “judicial jungle” because of the numerous federal, state, and tribal legislation and rulings that have played a part over the past 140+ years.  There may be other factors at play, too, such as capturing an audience by augmenting the controversy. 

Where does the controversy stand now? -Just last week a Federal Court ruled that the Freedmen could not sue the Cherokee Nation as an entity but that they may be able to file suit against Cherokee Nation officials.  Additionally, some members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), including Rep. Diane Watson (D-California), have drafted legislation to cut federal funding to the Cherokee Nation and suspend their casino gaming operations unless the Freedmen are reinstated as citizens.  This bill would deny the Cherokee Nation an annual $300 million dollars from the United States government; this money currently comprises 64% of the annual budget for the Cherokee Nation. 

Doesn’t the CBC understand the facts behind the Freedmen controversy? -Diane Watson is the main informant of the CBC on the Freedmen issue, and she believes she understands the situation perfectly.  She has declined invitations to meet with the Cherokee Nation’s Chief Chad Smith and other tribal officials.  The Cherokee Nation tried to present information at a CBC forum, but their attempt at showing their  “side” of the controversy failed. 

In addition to advocates who are Cherokee Freedmen, Watson uses two non-Freedmen Cherokees to promote the Freedmen issue, including Former Chief Joe Byrd who had suit brought upon him during his administration by the Cherokee Nation itself, and a Cherokee Nationalist who believes the Freedmen should be made citizens because the Cherokee Nation needs to “control their destiny.”  Neither of these men are  well-respected within the Cherokee community because of the devastation they have both brought upon the Cherokee people living in Oklahoma.

Can’t there just be a joint meeting or something for both sides to work out the issue?- There have been meetings attended by both the Cherokee Nation and the Freedmen but unfortunately they have not ended well. Both the Cherokees and the Freedmen activists are very emotional about their positions on the issue. Because the emotions run so high, little progress has been made in bridging the divide between the activists on both sides. 

The Cherokee Nation has tried to bring understanding to the issue through the use of two different websites:  www.meetthecherokee.org and www.cherokeenationfacts.org.  Also, an Oklahoma resident by the name of Heather Williams has appeared before Congress and in numerous publications on behalf of the Cherokee Nation.  She is the descendant of a Freedman but is a member of the Cherokee Nation because she ALSO descends from a Cherokee listed on the By Blood roll.  The Cherokee Nation has also offered free help to people who think they may be eligible for citizenship.

Who is affected while the courts decide?- The Freedmen and Intermarried Whites descendants who do not have an ancestor on the By Blood rolls cannot currently be granted citizenship.  However, those non-Indian individuals who enrolled after the 2006 court case are still extended benefits while the court cases are pending.   Any individual, regardless of race or other heritage, who can prove lineage to at least one ancestor on the By Blood Dawes Rolls can apply for citizenship in to the Cherokee Nation.

Where can I read more about this for myself?- It is difficult to find information that is not affiliated with activists on either side of the issue.  Reading newspaper articles merely scratch the surface, as has already been discussed.  But a good place to start is by trying to understand the Dawes Rolls.  Kent Carter, Director of the National Archives Fort-Worth Branch, has written an informative piece that can be found here.  You can also browse the Dawes Rolls and the application jackets for those who were placed on it (or rejected) by visiting the National Archives.  Next, you can read the 1866 Treaty which the Freedmen claim proves their legal right to citizenship.  The Cherokee Nation has also included a press kit with cited sources and timelines on their website.  When you look through information that comes up with Google sources, always keep in mind the author and the intended audience, as that always has a heavy impact on the message itself.  The Wikipedia page explaining the controversy, for example, was generated by the self-described activist against the Cherokee Nation and as a result the page is often biased in information. 

Good luck and please leave a comment!

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Freedmen Descendants’ Lawsuit Against Cherokee Nation Dismissed

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rules that Cherokee Nation has sovereign immunity, Rejects Freedmen descendants’ theory
 
Opinion says tribal sovereign immunity existed since founding of U.S. and continues today

 WASHINGTON, DC. — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously dismissed a lawsuit against the Cherokee Nation brought by a handful of non-Indian Freedmen descendants.
            Judge Thomas Griffith, in his written opinion for the three members of the court, stated: “The Freedmen argue that our search for intent to abrogate is misguided because the Thirteenth Amendment and the 1866 Treaty predate the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity, such that the drafters of those texts could not have foreseen the interpretive rule requiring express and unequivocal abrogation … This argument misapprehends the nature of tribal sovereign immunity, which is not the product of any enactment but an inherent attribute of a tribe’s sovereignty.  Tribal sovereign immunity existed at the Founding, as surely as did tribal sovereignty, and our only concern is whether the Thirteenth Amendment or the 1866 Treaty later abrogated that immunity.  The unequivocal-abrogation rule reflects the belief, as true in the nineteenth century as it is today, that lawmakers do not lightly discard sovereign immunity.  We see no reason to depart from the established interpretive rule based on the vintage of the texts.  Because nothing in the Thirteenth Amendment or the 1866 Treaty amounts to an express and unequivocal abrogation of tribal sovereign immunity, the Cherokee Nation cannot be joined in the Freedmen’s federal court suit without the tribe’s consent.  We reverse the District Court’s determination to the contrary.”
“In the 1830s, the Cherokee Nation won court cases, but Congress and the President ignored the rulings and instead forcibly removed the Cherokee Nation from our eastern homelands on the Trail of Tears, killing more than a quarter of our tribe’s population,” said Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.  “It remains to be seen whether Congress will treat the Cherokee Nation any differently 170 years later.   Today, the court held that the 1866 Treaty preserves the Nation’s sovereign immunity from these claims.  What Congress and the Nation agreed to in 1866, the Congress should not violate now.  The court has sent the case back to the District Court, and Congress should continue to let the courts decide.”
The appeals court remanded the case against tribal officials back to the District of Columbia District Court.  Griffith wrote: “The District Court must determine whether ‘in equity and good conscience’ the suit can proceed with the Cherokee Nation’s officers but without the Cherokee Nation itself.”
 “This decision is a strong affirmation for tribes across the country, who rely upon federal courts to uphold tribal sovereignty when it comes under attack,” said Chief Smith.  “The court once again acknowledged that tribes have inherent sovereignty that predates the founding of the United States, and that tribal sovereign immunity still exists today.”
            The full opinion is available at www.cherokeenationfacts.org and www.cherokee.org.

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.

——————————————————————————–

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

Research Program Offers Cherokee Genealogy Help

By CLIFTON ADCOCK World Staff Writer
6/27/2008
Last Modified: 6/27/2008  2:48 AM

It gives a hand to those who think they might be eligible for tribal citizenship.

The Cherokee Nation and leaders from Tulsa’s African-American community plan to work together to provide genealogy research to people who think they are eligible for Cherokee citizenship.

The outreach program is open to individuals of all races and nationalities who think they have Cherokee ancestry and wish to apply for citizenship in the Cherokee Nation.

In partnership with the Area Council for Community Action, the Cherokee Nation will provide individuals with genealogy research and direction in gathering the documentation needed to become enrolled tribal citizens.

“We realize that the Cherokee Nation requires citizens to have an Indian ancestor on the Dawes Roll, but we also know there may be many African-Americans who are eligible for citizenship but have not enrolled, for whatever reason,” said Pleas Thompson, president of the Area Council for Community Action.

“This partnership will help eligible people of any race to find the documentation they need to show an Indian ancestor on the rolls and become a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.”

The tribe has been under fire by the Congressional Black Caucus since amending its constitution last year to limit tribal membership to those who can show a Cherokee blood quantum. The new amendment meant descendents of freedmen, who had only a year earlier been granted citizenship under a tribal court order, along with intermarried whites who could not meet the by-blood requirement, would not be tribal citizens.

The freedmen were former slaves of Cherokees and were adopted into the tribe after emancipation.

A federal lawsuit by freedmen descendents is challenging the constitutional amendment that created the by-blood requirement, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus amended an Indian housing bill to cut funding to the Cherokee Nation unless it accepts the freedmen descendents as citizens.

The Cherokee Nation offers some genealogical services through the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, but this is the first time such services will be offered on a regular basis in the Tulsa area.

“The Cherokee Nation is taking the lead in reaching out to the community, to make sure that people of Indian ancestry have every opportunity to be enrolled as citizens,” Thompson said. “A partnership like this can be something that helps the entire community.”

“The need for this kind of service is very real,” said Heather Williams, a Cherokee citizen who also has African-American ancestry. “When my family was trying to locate our ancestors on the Dawes Rolls, it took quite some time to gather the information. Having a service available like this would help tremendously.”

Cherokee principal Chief Chad Smith, said, “We know that for some people, the process of tracing your family tree back more than 100 years can be difficult, and there are roadblocks that can be discouraging.

“This partnership will make it easier for people in the Tulsa area to get through the enrollment process a little easier. (The Area Council for Community Action) has a long history of helping the community and will be a great partner in this outreach effort.”

Genealogical assistance will be available from 9 a.m. to noon at 205 E. Pine St., Suite 3, in the North Pointe Business Complex, as well as at other events and times as scheduled by the Area Council for Community Action.

For more information or to make an appointment, contact the council at 592-1339.


Clifton Adcock 581-8462
clifton.adcock@tulsaworld.com

King: Race, Affiliation, and Sovereignty ’08

King: Race, affiliation and sovereignty ’08       
Posted: June 24, 2008
by: Keegan King
Race has been and will continue to be an issue in this year’s national elections. But now it seems that tribal affiliation can be added to the list of candidate policy positions. It was recently reported that Sen. Barack Obama attempted to clarify his position on the rights and affiliation of Cherokee freedmen. Freedmen, the descendants of mixed Indian and freed African people, have filed an injunction to prohibit the Cherokee tribe from ousting them from tribal rolls.Sen. Obama made it clear that in the dispute between the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee freedmen, he supports the tribe’s right to determine tribal affiliation. He also said that he did not agree with the decision, but ”tribal sovereignty must mean that the place to resolve intertribal disputes is the tribe itself.” This is just the latest iteration of a storied battle for tribal self-determination within the Cherokee Nation. The conflict resulted from the Congressional Black Caucus attempting to get presumptive Democratic nominee Obama to support their efforts to prohibit the Cherokee Nation from disenrolling freedmen by withholding treaty obligations.

House Bill 2824, a bill that seeks to ”sever United States’ government relations with the Cherokee Nation” until full tribal citizenship is restored to Cherokee freedmen, was introduced in 2007. Supported by 35 members of the CBC, H.R. 2824 was a reaction to Cherokee freedmen’s appeals to U.S. lawmakers to weigh in on their removal from the Cherokee tribal roll. This new conflict over tribal sovereignty and what it means to be part of a tribe finds its roots in the relocation and allotment policies of the 19th century.

During the mid-1800s, the Cherokee people were forcibly removed from their homelands in the Southeastern U.S. in what is known as the Trail of Tears. Their expulsion to reservation territory in Oklahoma was a policy implemented to make land available in the East for European settlers. During the removal, the Civil War was raging and several tribes had sided with either Confederate or Union forces. New treaties were forged between the U.S. government and newly relocated tribes during Reconstruction. And tribes that had kept African slaves up until then were forced to free them. With the freeing of slaves, who had been deeply involved in the culture of traditional Cherokee life and who spoke the language, there were many marital unions formed between Cherokees and blacks.

As it had been for hundreds of years, the Cherokee accepted these new in-laws and children of mixed heritage as full members of the tribe regardless of the foreign concept of ”race.” Formalized through treaty documents, the self-determination of tribes in matters of enrollment were left to the tribal governments. During this time, Cherokee ”freedmen” became prominent business owners and leaders within the tribe. The age-old system of adoption and cultural inclusion was successful and functioned as it always had.

But as Indian policy morphed from removal to assimilation, the U.S. government introduced a new paradigm – blood quantum. Quantum was an attempt to influence tribal self-determination. By and large, the tribes had been fairly homogeneous; and in cases like that of the freedmen, the Cherokee Nation had accepted outsiders that had already been initiated into tribal culture. But by introducing this new concept of race, a system based solely upon ancestry, the U.S. government had devised a way to whittle down the tribes and their subsequent obligations to them over time.

Faced with what appeared to be an arbitrary requirement, the tribes adopted blood quantum requirements. And at the time, many tribes required that individuals have one-quarter or one-half ”Indian blood” to be a tribal member. In this way, the criteria for tribal enrollment came to be based solely on ancestry.

The fallacy of blood quantum has had tremendous repercussions over the last century. In many ways, it has divided tribes and created a class system where a person’s degree of ”Indian blood” is what determines their status in a community. Before quantum, tribal members were accepted based on their willingness to sacrifice for and support the tribe and leaders were chosen because of their values and character rather than racial purity.

Due in no small part to the assimilation policy of blood quantum, the Cherokee Nation first started discussing whether Cherokee freedmen should have rights as citizens in the early 1980s. The combination of a forced paradigm shift, off-reservation populations that weren’t as connected to the cultural aspect of the tribe, and a century of racist federal policy targeting blacks and dwindling resources culminated in the 1990s with the first real attempts to oust Cherokee freedmen from the rolls. And in 2007, the Cherokee Nation, through an election fraught with voter disenfranchisement, passed a referendum that prohibited Cherokees designated as freedmen from being enrolled members.

The CBC and other lawmakers have attempted to make the case that this is a treaty issue and not one of sovereignty. They believe that because freedmen were ”granted” the same rights as Cherokees in treaty documents, this should carry through to their descendants today. I find it humorous that the same government that has implemented these policies is now trying to find fault with them.

I agree with Sen. Obama in that the Cherokee freedmen should continue to be recognized by the tribe but that the decision should come from the Cherokee Nation. He put it this way: ”Our nation has learned with tragic results that federal intervention in internal matters of Indian tribes is rarely productive – failed policies such as allotment and termination grew out of efforts to second-guess Native communities. That is not a legacy we want to continue.”

As our world becomes smaller, tribal nations will find that we have tribal members with African, European, American and even Asian descent. Tribal sovereignty must be respected and, as Sen. Obama has said, the tribes must not be interfered with in their process of determining membership. But the termination policies of the past, including blood quantum, must be abolished or they will continue to divide and conquer our communities, family by family.

It is time for us to make a change. It is time to for our tribal nations to evolve, back.

Keegan King, Acoma Pueblo, is the director of New Mexico Youth Organized, an organization that gets young people involved in politics in the state. He can be reached at keegank@gmail.com.

Media Analysis: Cherokee and Freedmen Dispute

4/20/2007 1:27:31 PM (CST)

Media analysis

How journalists reported the Cherokee-Freedmen story

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A recent study looked at journalistic coverage of the Cherokee Nation March 3 vote on an amendment to its constitution that ended tribal citizenship for descendants of the Freedmen, not otherwise connected with Cherokee lineage.

The research analyzed mainstream news media presentation of the story, specifically how they dealt with sometimes competing issues such as the CN’s sovereignty and citizenship issues of the Freedmen. It also looked at the news sources cited or quoted in the reports and the balance between sources on either side of the issue.

“In general, this was reported as a classic clash between oppressor and victim,” Ron Smith, communication professor and the study’s principal, said. “Missing were nuance, historical perspective and a context within which to understand the contemporary significance of the story.”

The study, released March 22, was conducted by the American Indian Policy and Media Initiative at Buffalo State College. It reported the following additional findings:

* Spokespeople on both sides of the issue had their say in the news stories, but the Freedmen opponents to the amendment generally were quoted before news sources associated with the Cherokee Nation.

* Both issues of racism and self-determination were discussed, but the racism theme figured more prominently (sooner) in the story than the tribal governance or sovereignty theme.
* Few reports gave details or context to the vote itself, either the voting numbers or the voter turnout.

* Nearly two-thirds of the reports raised the money issue, generally without supporting information, as a factor motivating the vote.

* Most of the articles highlighted the slave-owning history of the Cherokees, but fewer explained the incorporation of former slaves into the tribe or the confusion created by the Dawes Commission.

The research reviewed published news reports and broadcast transcripts between Feb. 27 and March 10. It focused on headlines, leads, quoted news sources, statistical information about the vote and presentation of information about money and about the historical context. It also looked at the use of terms such as “racist” and “sovereign.”

“Overall, this is another instance of mainstream media failing to understand the complexity of an issue involving American Indians and their oversimplification of an intricate situation,” Smith said, who has conducted other research on media presentation of news focused on Native American topics. “We look at how the media ‘frames’ the story, whose version gets top billing, what themes are presented.”

Smith said the media coverage, because it lacked a historical context, covered the story as an example of an Indian nation versus African Americans.

“Some of the reports used terms such as ‘kick out’ and ‘disown.’ Several headlines screamed ‘racism,’ such as one that read: ‘Cherokees Accused of Racist Plot as Sons of Slaves Are Cast Out,’” he said.

By a ratio of 5-to-1, Freedmen sources were the first quoted in the reports. Most of the reports used the term “racism,” with two-third of those in the lead or opening paragraphs. By contrast, while three-quarters of the articles implied the concept of sovereignty, only 12 percent used the term “sovereignty.”

Few published reports noted the legal relationship of the Cherokees in particular or Native tribes and nations in general. Half of the articles mentioned the Dawes Commission that loomed large in the history of the controversy, but most of those without explanation.

A full text of the research report is available online at http://www.buffalostate.edu/communication (American Indian Initiative).

– Buffalo State College Communications

 

 

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.