Opinion: Freedmen victimized by Cherokee Nation
"In 1983, the Cherokee nation revised its constitution, stripping the Cherokee Freedmen, descendants of former Cherokee slaves, of their voting rights and citizenship status. According to the tribal election council, the Freedmen are not Cherokee “by blood” and thus are not “real” Cherokees. To the chagrin of many tribal members, on March 7, 2006, in a 2-1 decision, the Cherokee Supreme Court reversed the earlier decision calling the expulsion of the Freedmen unconstitutional, therefore, reinstating them into the tribe.

The Cherokee nation rejected the CSC’s verdict and called for a special election to settle the question once and for all. On March 3, 2007, Cherokee tribal members decided overwhelmingly by a vote of 70 percent to expel the Freedmen. Consequently, on June 21, 2007, the Congressional Black Caucus called on Congress to withhold funding from the Cherokee nation until such time that the Freedmen are fully restored.

The Cherokee nation has an annual budget of $300 million of which 80 percent is derived from federal aid. Withholding such aid would no doubt have a detrimental effect on the tribe. The measure passed the House. The CBC is now pressuring the Senate to do the same. In response to the CBC’s activism on behalf of the Freedmen, Tim Giago published an article on the Huffington Post entitled, “Congressional Black Caucus Attacks Sovereign Status of Indian Nations.” Giago asserted that such activism is an assault upon tribal sovereignty. Nevertheless, positing the CBC’s call for sanctions against the Cherokee nation as an “attack” on tribal sovereignty ignores over two centuries of Black – Cherokee relations, and the current issue which is not tribal sovereignty, but rather human rights.

As a means of "civilizing" American Indians, Southern whites introduced chattel slavery to what are now known as The Five Civilized Tribes: Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokees. The Cherokees exceeded their Indian counterparts in embracing southern white culture and they profited the most from slave ownership. By 1809 there were 600 enslaved blacks living in the Cherokee nation; the number increased to 1,600 by 1835. When Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act forcing Cherokees on a death march out west--the infamous "Trail of Tears"--they carried their black slaves with them."

Get the Story:
Arica L. Coleman: Are Blacks Being Victimized Twice by the Cherokee? (History News Network 5/12)

Cherokee-Related Legislation:
H.R.2786 | 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)

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