By Principal Chief Chad Smith
Recently, presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Barack Obama was asked to reconcile his open support for tribal sovereignty with his membership in the Congressional Black Caucus. A handful of members of that organization are actively attempting to terminate the Cherokee Nation’s federal recognition and funding, which would eliminate more than 6,500 jobs, strand more than 126,000 people without healthcare, cut off meals to more than 700 elders per week and leave thousands of tribal citizens without housing. In response, his campaign issued the following statement that I would like to share here:
“Barack Obama has reiterated his support for tribal sovereignty. Senator Obama said, ‘Tribal sovereignty must mean that the place to resolve intertribal disputes is the tribe itself. 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.’
“With respect to the Cherokee Freedman issue, Senator Obama said that while he is opposed to unwarranted tribal disenrollment, congressional interference was not warranted at this point. ‘Discrimination anywhere is intolerable, but the Cherokee are dealing with this issue in both tribal and federal courts. As it stands, the rights of the Cherokee Freedmen are not being abrogated because there is an injunction in place that ensures the Freedmen’s rights to programs during the pendency of the litigation. I do not support efforts to undermine these legal processes and impose a congressional solution. Tribes have a right to be self governing and we need to respect that, even if we disagree, which I do in this case. We must have restraint in asserting federal power in such circumstances.’
“Obama also reiterated his support for fulfilling the treaty obligations to tribes. ‘The Cherokee Freedmen issue highlights the larger issue of the unfulfilled treaty promises made by the federal government to tribes. It is these promises that Barack is most concerned with as the future president. Barack understands that the federal government owes a legal and moral obligation to tribes to provide health care, education and other essential services to tribes. This is not a handout, but compensation for millions of acres of land relinquished by tribes.’”
Senator Obama is right. As an indigenous nation, our sovereignty is inherent and the U.S. government has a legal obligation to recognize our sovereignty. Treaties are the historical record of that recognition, and show clear proof of an ongoing government to government relationship.
It’s called “federal recognition,” not “federal permission to exist.” We already have a right guaranteed by tribal, federal and international law to exist as a distinct people.
And I am also glad that Senator Obama differentiates in his statement between a “handout” and “compensation” for our historical losses as a people. California Congresswoman Diane Watson, who is leading the charge in the CBC to disenfranchise our Nation, seems to want to “stop payment” on compensation owed to us by the U.S. government because she doesn’t approve of a citizenship decision our people had every legal right to make. In the real world, her actions would be considered a violation of the first obligation of the United States in our first treaty in 1785
, a government to government relationship. The fact is, Watson refuses to recognize that Congress itself closed the rolls to Freedmen descendants one hundred years ago, and now she wants to coerce Cherokees into granting those descendants today what Congress took away.
Reading Obama’s statement makes me hopeful. It is good to know that others can thoughtfully analyze this complex situation and come to the same simple conclusions that we have: Tribes have the inherent right to self-governance, congressional interference is not an appropriate answer, and the place to resolve tribal disputes is the tribe itself.
In contrast, much of Watson’s and the CBC’s unwarranted attempts to intervene in our government stem from misinformation. To that end, we have tried to make as much information as possible available so that our citizens and others can read, analyze and make informed decisions based on facts, not emotion. Besides the Cherokee citizenship information that has always been and continues to be updated regularly on http://www.cherokee.org
we have also created two new Web sites intended to provide facts about the issue: www.cherokeenationfacts.org
On these sites, you will find a historical timeline, legal documents, videos, opinions from citizens and links to take action to ask Congress to cease any further legislation that will hurt our Nation and our people. I hope you will visit, read the facts and make the decision to support our inherent, legal rights.