Opinion: Cherokees treat Delawares like property

"The Cherokee Nation has received a great deal of heated criticism for its decision to eject the black freedman from their national rolls. The freedmen are the descendants of blacks who were once held as slaves by some wealthy members of the Cherokee Nation. Under a Cherokee treaty of 1866, the Cherokees agreed to make the freedmen citizens of the Cherokee Nation; the freedmen were also supposed to be given a district of their own in order to have some degree of self-rule.

In any event, the recent Cherokee message to the black freedman is pretty straightforward: ''Get out.'' Yet, ironically and contradictorily, just a couple of years ago the Cherokee Nation - claiming rights under a similar provision to their 1866 treaty - essentially argued that the Cherokees had an exclusive right to govern the Delaware Tribe. In some sense, the Cherokees argue that they have a property right to the Delaware people.

In 1978, at the paternalistic instigation of then-Cherokee Principal Chief Ross Swimmer, the Cherokee Nation sought to have the United States no longer recognize the Delaware Tribe as a separate Indian nation. As a consequence, the United States, through the BIA, withdrew federal recognition of the Delaware Tribe headquartered in Bartlesville, Okla. In 1996, the BIA reversed its decision and the Delaware Tribe was once again federally recognized. In a 2002 decision, U.S. District Court Judge Sven Holmes issued a partial order in favor of the BIA's decision to restore federal recognition to the Delaware Tribe of Indians.

Then, in November 2004, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Cherokee Nation against the Department of the Interior, the 10th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals reversed Holmes' decision by ruling that the Delawares had abandoned their Delaware identity to become Cherokee citizens in the 19th century. "

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: The Cherokee Nation's contradictory stance (Indian Country Today 3/30)

10th Circuit Decision:
Cherokee Nation v. Norton (November 16, 2004)

Lower Court Decision:
Cherokee Nation v. DOI (7/23)

Relevant Documents:
Federal Register Notice/Ada Deer Announcement (September 1996)

Relevant Links:
Delaware Tribe of Indians - http://www.delawaretribeofindians.nsn.us

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