Opinion: Cherokee Nation wrong on Freedmen
"The moral case against the Cherokees is straightforward. As a duly constituted nation in the nineteenth century, they legally embraced and promoted African slavery, a position they maintained after Removal to Indian Territory in the 1830s. The vast majority of Cherokees could not afford slaves, as was also the case throughout the American South, and historians of Cherokee slavery have demonstrated that some aspects of the Cherokee social world gave a different, less negative character to being enslaved by wealthy Cherokees rather than wealthy whites. Make no mistake, though. No one is on record as having volunteered to become a Cherokee slave. History records plenty of Cherokee slaves attempting to escape to freedom, as well as Cherokee slave revolts.

The Cherokee Nation officially emancipated all slaves in 1863. The 1866 treaty that subsequently enfranchised these former slaves resulted in an amendment to the Cherokee Constitution that same year. That amendment reads: “All native born Cherokees, all Indians, and whites legally members of the Nation by adoption, and all freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law, as well as 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 from the 19th day of July, 1866, and their descendants, who reside within the limits of the Cherokee Nation, shall be taken and deemed to be, citizens of the Cherokee Nation.” All of this was as a moral victory for those Cherokees who understood that institutionalizing slavery created moral implications that could only be addressed on moral grounds. That is, formal slaves need not just freedom, but also the protection of citizenship. How else, after all, can those who have lost so much expect to gain their lives without a context in which they can rebuild their lives?

In spite of being egged on and provoked by the legislated racism of the Cherokee Nation, the vast majority of Freedmen descendants have reacted with impressive dignity befitting their proud history. Melvin Watt and other black members of Congress have likewise responded in a measured, but active way. It remains for more people, including Native American writers, scholars, and artists, not to mention elected leaders, presidents, and chiefs, to stand up and be counted on the right moral side of this question. Better yet, Chad Smith could save us all the trouble by following some of the best examples of Cherokee history rather than the morally corrupting and exclusionary ones he and his supporters have chosen thus far."

Get the Story:
Robert Warrior: Cherokees flee the moral high ground over Freedmen (News From Indian Country August 2007)

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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