Opinion: Cherokee Nation can't win on Freedmen
"Morally, the issue is clear: Why attempt to disenfranchise a particular group of Cherokee Nation citizens based, it would appear, solely on their race? The response from the government of the nation has been that this move, contrary to the way it appears, is not racist - there are black Cherokees on the ''blood'' rolls, it argues - but a matter of sovereignty, a question of who gets to decide tribal enrollments: the nation itself or the federal government. While under federal Indian law the tribes are granted autonomy in the area of enrollment, the Secretary of the Interior, under the same proviso, has a right to intervene in these decisions. Legal matters notwithstanding, a nation constituted by ''blood'' is a nation constituted by racial borders; and a nation constituted by this kind of exclusivity is by definition racist. The irony here is that the constitution of tribal rolls by blood quantum is a federal imposition of the Dawes era, a stricture that the tribes themselves later adopted in contradiction of traditional practices.

Legally, the issue is also clear: as noted above, Article 9 of the Treaty of 1866 grants the ''freedmen ... all the rights of native Cherokees.'' End of story. If Indian nations expect the federal government to abide by the treaties, which are the foundation of federal Indian law, recognizing the government-to-government relationship between Indian nations and the United States, then the federal government has a right to expect the same, even though the trail of treaties broken by the government is all too long. The irony here is also evident - the habitual treaty-breaker insists on the sanctity of the treaty - but does not negate the principle or fact of the law.

Abrogating the rights of a group of black citizens of the Cherokee Nation, descendants of slaves held by citizens of that nation, is, to say the least, an ironic way to challenge the colonizing power of the federal government in that it repeats the colonial situation of disenfranchisement against which it apparently struggles. And the Watson resolution itself is also characterized by the same unintentional irony in not recognizing the colonial situation of Indian country that has positioned the Cherokee Nation to present a challenge to federal authority that, in this particular case, it should not and cannot win."

Get the Story:
Eric Cheyfitz: The historical irony of H.R. 2824 (Indian Country Today 8/10)

Cherokee-Related Legislation:
H.R.2895 | H.R.2824 | H.R.3002

BIA Letters:
July 11, 2007 | June 22, 2007 | May 21, 2007 | March 28, 2007 | August 30, 2006

Sovereign Immunity Court Decision:
Vann v. Kempthorne (December 19, 2006)

Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal Decision in Freedmen Case:
Allen v. Cherokee Nation (March 7, 2006)

Relevant Links:
Cherokee Nation - http://www.cherokee.org
Freedmen Of The Five Civilized Tribes - http://www.freedmen5tribes.com
Freedmen Conference - http://www.freedmenconference.com

Related Stories:
Cherokee Nation given a month on Freedmen issue (8/3)
Rep. Boren claims agreement on Cherokee funding (8/2)
Graham: Bill seeks to terminate Cherokee Nation (8/2)
Bill cutting Cherokee Nation funds faces vote (7/30)
House panel votes to cut funds to Cherokee Nation (7/27)
BIA official backs change to Cherokee constitution (7/23)
Column: Treaty at issue in Freedmen dispute (07/16)
Opinion: Let Cherokee Nation decide citizenship (7/10)
Cherokee Nation chief addresses citizenship (7/9)
Editorial: Cherokee Nation like an all-male country club (7/2)
NCAI opposes bill to cut Cherokee funding (6/27)
Cherokee Nation voters re-elect Smith (6/25)
Cherokee Nation faces funding cut amid election (6/22)
Letter: Cherokee Nation and treaty negotiations (6/22)
Rep. Watson to introduce Cherokee Freedmen bill (6/21)
UKB Chief: Cherokee Nation can't break treaty (6/20)
Blog: Cherokee chief offers Freedmen a deal (6/20)
Letter: Cherokee citizenship not about blood (6/20)
Editorial: No reason to remove Cherokee Freedmen (6/18)
Bill would cut funding to Cherokee Nation (6/18)
Chad Smith: Cherokee Nation exercises sovereignty (6/15)
Federal court won't halt Cherokee election (6/14)
Cherokee Nation defends upcoming election (6/12)
Letter: Change in leadership for the Cherokee Nation (6/12)
Chad Smith: Cherokee sovereignty at stake (6/11)
Cherokee Freedmen headed to court for injunction (6/11)
Editorial: The Shame of the Cherokee Nation (6/8)
Cherokee Nation to vote on constitution again (6/7)
Letter: A new leader for the Cherokee Nation (6/6)
Cherokee Nation wants election to go forward (6/1)
Cherokee Nation blasts BIA over constitution (5/23)
BIA rejects 2003 Cherokee Nation constitution (5/22)
Cherokee Nation worried about Freedmen fallout (5/18)
Cherokee Freedmen restored to membership for now (5/15)
Cherokee Freedmen protest ouster from tribe (5/14)
Cherokee leader: Freedmen case not winnable (5/11)
Cherokee Freedmen back in court over ouster (5/11)
Freedmen ouster stirs passions at law conference (4/26)
Cherokee Nation considers anti-Freedmen funds (4/18)
Cherokee Nation chief took money from Abramoff (4/12)
Freedmen protest removal at BIA office in Oklahoma (4/11)
Rolo: Cherokee Nation blasted for ousting Freedmen (4/4)
Graham: Cherokee Nation tarred with 'racist' label (4/2)
Cherokee Freedmen protest ouster from tribe (3/28)
Opinion: Ouster of Freedmen is Cherokee business (3/23)
Opinion: Outrage over ouster of Cherokee Freedmen (3/22)
Marilyn Vann: Loss of Cherokee Nation citizenship (3/21)
Website Review: The revolt of the Black Seminoles (3/20)
Column: Freedmen still slaves to Cherokee Nation (3/19)
Opinion: Cherokees have a right to oust Freedmen (3/19)
Opinion: Cherokee Freedmen play the race card (3/19)
Opinion: Racism exists within Cherokee Nation (3/15)
Congressional Black Caucus backs Freedmen (3/14)
Tim Giago: Cherokee Nation votes out Freedmen (3/12)
Opinion: Cherokee Nation ignores own treaty (3/12)
Opinion: Cherokee Nation takes the lower road (3/12)
Chad Smith: Cherokee Nation tolerant of many (3/9)
Column: Cherokee Nation loses moral ground with vote (3/9)
Editorial: Ouster of Freedmen a low point for Cherokees (3/8)
Freedmen to challenge ouster, Cherokee funding (3/7)
Commentary: Cherokee blood spread far and wide (3/7)
Slate: What's so good about being Cherokee? (3/6)
Cherokee Nation kicks out Freedmen descendants (3/5)
Cherokee Nation heads to polls to decide on Freedmen (3/2)
Chad Smith: Cherokee Nation not based on race (3/2)
Editorial: Ouster of Freedmen a sign of elitism, fear (3/2)
Voice of America: Cherokees to vote on Freedmen (2/27)
Judge won't halt Cherokee Freedmen vote (2/22)
Freedmen in court to halt Cherokee Nation vote (2/21)
Freedmen ask federal court to halt Cherokee election (2/5)
Cherokees in California want to be part of community (01/16)
Ouster of Cherokee Freedmen an issue in California (1/15)
Election to oust Cherokee Freedmen delayed (1/3)
Cherokee Freedmen win ruling against tribe (12/20)
Cherokee Chief: Tribe to vote on Indian blood (12/06)
USA Today: Tribes remove thousands from rolls (11/29)
Cherokee court hears dispute over Freedmen vote (11/27)
Cherokee court to consider Freedmen referendum (11/20)
Freedmen descendant sues over citizenship change (11/03)
Cherokee Freedmen to challenge removal (10/10)
Cherokee chief calls vote on removing Freedmen (10/9)
Cherokees defend right to kick Freedmen out of tribe (09/21)
Cherokee chief rejects need to approve constitution (09/11)
Cherokee Nation questioned on Freedmen vote (9/7)
Petition to oust Cherokee Freedmen submitted (08/15)
Petition seeks vote on ousting Cherokee Freedmen (07/31)
Cherokee Nation to vote on blood quantum change (6/13)
Cherokee Nation council debates blood quantum (6/12)
Cherokee Nation's top court approves constitution (6/9)
Cherokee committee approves membership proposal (05/16)
About 800 Cherokee Freedmen enrolled since decision (05/01)
Cherokee chief sued over vacant legal position (04/13)
Cherokee chief criticized for stance on Freedmen (4/6)
Two Creek Freedmen apply for citizenship after ruling (03/22)
Creek Freedmen see opening in citizenship dispute (3/21)
Cherokee chief calls for an 'Indian' Nation by blood (3/20)
Cherokee chief criticized for stance on Freedmen (3/17)
Cherokee chief wants Freedmen out of tribe (3/15)
Editorial: Victory long overdue for Cherokee Freedmen (3/10)
Cherokee Nation to enroll Freedmen descendants (3/9)
Cherokee Freedmen win tribal citizenship lawsuit (3/8)
Cherokee chief wants to sue BIA over constitution (02/15)
Freedmen descendants shut out of Cherokee Nation (11/22)
Trial concludes in Freedmen membership case (09/15)
DNA tests being used to bolster Indian heritage claims (08/30)
Ex-Cherokee councilors fined for Freedmen support (08/23)
Freedmen descendants use DNA to show Indian blood (06/03)
Column: Civilized Tribes owe reparations to slaves (03/11)
Cherokee Nation seeks role in Freedmen lawsuit (02/21)
Cherokee leaders blast Coburn for 'divisive' remarks (9/17)
Cherokee Freedmen caught in high-level dispute (8/20)
Cherokee Nation chief sworn in for another term (8/15)
Seminole Freedmen rebuffed by Supreme Court (06/29)
Cherokee Freedmen sue BIA for disenfranchisement (8/12)
Court tackles Seminole dispute (9/24)
The Seminole Nation's hanging chad (8/8)
Resolution of Seminole dispute sought in court (5/28)
Court decision rocks Seminole Nation (5/8)
Seminole's Chief Haney restored to power (5/7)
Black Seminole appeal planned (5/1)
Black Seminoles dealt setback (4/30)
Opinion: Seminole Nation always black (4/22)
A fight over funds, race (4/4)
Seminole Head Start funds OKed (2/6)
Seminole changes sought again (1/16)
Ousted Seminole leader sues tribe, BIA (12/14)
Black Seminole issue still divisive (10/29)
Suspended Seminole Chief to sue (6/27)
Seminole Chief Haney suspended (6/26)
Race part of Seminole dispute (1/29)
Seminole voters approve changes (7/7)
Seminole vote may affect Freedmen (7/7)