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Dan Littlefield: Freedmen deserve Cherokee Nation citizenship

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: cherokee, dan littlefield, freedmen, oklahoma, treaties
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Freedmen descendants protest outside a Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Oklahoma. File photo from Marilyn Vann, the president of the Descendants Of Freedmen Of The Five Civilized Tribes

Dan Littlefield, the director of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Sequoyah National Research Center, discusses the controversy over Freedmen citizenship within the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma:
The argument that the Freedmen never had full citizenship rights in the CN prior to the Dawes period is spurious. In 1866, for the first time, the Freedmen gained the first citizenship they had ever held. It was the only citizenship they would have until 1901, when the United States made all of the citizens of the CN citizens of the United States as well. The Freedmen's rights in the Cherokee Nation were guaranteed by the Treaty of 1866, which the CN signed and carried out. It did so admirably, considering the racial climate in the adjoining states at the time.

Following the Treaty in 1866, the Cherokee National Council amended the constitution to guarantee the freedmen full rights as citizens. The Nation's own citizenship court and Supreme Court subsequently admitted large numbers of additional Freedmen applicants to citizenship. These were primarily Freedmen who had not returned to the CN within the six-month limit set by the treaty. A good example was the Supreme Court's action on June 21, 1871, which "admitted to Cherokee Rights and Citizenship" 34 Cherokee Freedman households. Without doubt, the court realized the implications of its action: not only those admitted but their hundreds of descendants would be future citizens of the Nation. This was only one of a number of such decisions.

In taking its censuses, the CN listed citizens according to the basis for their rights to citizenship: by blood or by adoption. In the latter category, they listed four groups: Shawnees, Delawares, Freedmen, and intermarried whites. No matter what category a person was in, he or she was still a citizen of the CN.

If the CN did not want the Freedmen as citizens or did not recognize them, why did it, year after year for decades, guarantee their rights by law; willfully admit more of them to citizenship and consistently list them as citizens of the Nation while at the same time keeping separate lists of intruders or people who had doubtful status as citizens? The Cherokee Nation was, in fact, a multi-racial, multi-cultural constitutional nation, whose citizenship was based not on blood or culture but on either birth or adoption.

Get the Story:
Dan Littlefield: Study of historical facts clarifies Freedmen citizenship issue (The Cherokee Phoenix 7/14)

Also Today:
Descendants of Freedmen sue U.S. government (Courthouse News Service 7/7)

Related Stories:
Radio: Cherokee Freedmen cite treaty in fight over citizenship (06/16)
Courtland Milloy: Cherokee Nation seeking to exclude Freedmen (05/07)
Federal judge hears arguments in Cherokee Freedmen dispute (5/6)
Federal judge reschedules hearing for Cherokee Freedmen case (04/07)
Cherokee Freedmen eager for court hearing in citizenship case (03/10)
Obama supports Freedmen in dispute with Cherokee Nation (02/03)
Judge sets oral arguments in Cherokee Nation Freedmen suit (9/18)


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