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Opinion
Editorial: Race and citizenship in Cherokee dispute


"The controversy enveloping the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and Cherokee freedmen recently has taken some interesting and unexpected turns. Americans, through the prism of this situation, are growing comfortable discussing Indian issues in dangerous terms of race and exclusion. The Cherokee leadership is entering a public relations fray potentially more volatile than a classic legal battle. The nation, amid salacious charges of ethnic cleansing, is steadfastly repeating its intention regarding a March vote to amend its enrollment policy, essentially denying freedmen without Indian ancestry citizenship within the nation. Time will tell if tribal sovereignty will trump race-baiting disguised as civil rights advocacy.

The nation's congressional adversary, Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., in June introduced a rather paternalistic bill to sever federal relations with the Cherokees of Oklahoma until it ''restores full tribal citizenship to the Cherokee freedmen disenfranchised in the March 3 Cherokee Nation vote and fulfills all its treaty obligations with the Government of the United States.'' H.R. 2824 would cut federal funding to the Cherokees and restrict the nation's authority to operate its gaming facilities.

Watson embarked on a publicity tour to promote the bill's virtues with town hall meetings co-sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congressional Black Caucus. At a Tulsa library, Watson characterized the controversy as the ''most significant civil rights movement of this century.'' Not to diminish the freedmen's plight, but most Americans would probably point to the Bush administration's domestic spying program as the biggest threat to civil rights in this 7-year-old 21st century. The hyperbole didn't end there. Watson was accompanied - at the library - by U.S. Capitol police officers and proceeded to admonish an Indian nation for allegedly violating treaty obligations. ''The law says we can't use U.S. dollars to violate the law,'' she said in Tulsa. ''American money can't be used to discriminate.'' Watson was likely alluding to the outdated stereotype of the non-taxpaying, ward-of-the-state Indian. It is both disconcerting and comforting to know that hypocrisy is the basis of Watson's misguided crusade."

Get the Story:
Editorial: Race, not citizenship, informs Watson's Cherokee bill (Indian Country Today 8/24)

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

BIA Letters:
August 9, 2007 | 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

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