Tag Archives: watson

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

Advertisements

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.

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.

Cherokee Chief Chad Smith Supports Obama

http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Opinion/Opinion.aspx?StoryID=2886

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 and www.meetthecherokee.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.

Obama Upholds Tribal Sovereignty

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) has stated his opposition to H.R. 2824, an attempt by his fellow Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA) to sever government-to-government relations with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma because of an on-going dispute between the tribe and the “Cherokee Freedmen.”

In a March 13, 2008 Letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, members of the Congressional Black Caucus stated that “members of the CBC will not support, and will actively oppose passage of NAHASDA” unless the bill contains a “provision that would prevent the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma from receiving any benefits or funding” until they extended tribal membership to the Freedmen. The letter contained the signatures of 35 CBC members, but not the signature of White House hopeful Senator Barack Obama. 

Still, the Native American community began raising questions about an Obama Presidency that could potentially support CBC efforts to undermine the rights of tribal governments to determine their own membership.  Asked to clearly state his position on H.R. 2824, Obama’s campaign issued the following statement: 

“Tribal sovereignty must mean that the place to resolve intertribal disputes is the tribe itself,” Obama said. “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 Freedman’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.”

Regarding Sen. Obama also reiterated his support for fulfilling the government’s 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 the Senator is most concerned with as the future president.  Sen. Obama 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,” he said.

Those are the words of Senator Barack Obama, but what about his actions?  Native Americans still concerned about an Obama presidency should research the websites of Clinton, Obama, and McCain for an indication of each candidate’s interest in their community.  Clinton and McCain websites have no specific links or information for Native American peoples or issues, while Senator Obama’s campaign has a main page link directly to his website for “First Americans,” at http://www.tribes.barackobama.com.  Further, a look at all three candidates’ campaign teams reveal that Senator Obama has a Native American Community Outreach Coordinator and a 30-member Tribal Steering Committee.  If Clinton and McCain have a Native American presence on their campaign teams, it is well hidden.

Sen. Obama’s opposition to Diane Watson’s legislation will undoubtedly be met with unrest by those of his fellow members of the CBC that side with the Cherokee Freedmen, but Obama appears to be no stranger to the CBC’s disaffections.  Last year, online political publication TheHill.com reported on the CBC’s anger with Obama about rejecting an invitation to debate on Fox News, and added that “Obama has irked fellow CBC members by failing to respond to a request made early last year that he host a fundraiser for the Black Caucus’s political action committee (PAC). [Senator Hillary] Clinton received a similar invitation and quickly followed through by headlining a CBC PAC fundraiser in March of 2006.”  Perhaps this is why the CBC recruited Hillary Clinton and not Barack Obama to be the Guest Speaker at their 37th Annual Legislative Conference, prompting the Washington Times to speculate that the CBC was quietly trying to endorse her bid for the presidency.

Hopefully to the Native American community it is obvious that Obama and the CBC do not have mutual and unequivocal support for one another. He clearly opposes H.R.2824 that was introduced by Diane Watson, who –incidentally- endorsed his rival Senator Hillary Clinton and now serves as an advisor to the Clinton campaign.