Decision allows Cherokee Nation to remove Freedmen from rolls

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma can deny citizenship to the Freedmen, who are the descendants of former slaves, the tribe's top court ruled on Monday.

In 2007, tribal members amended the constitution to limit enrollment to people whose ancestors were listed on the Indian portion of the Dawes Roll. Ancestors on the Freedmen portion of the roll weren't accepted as proof of citizenship.

Freedmen descendants sued in tribal court and won a decision that reinstated their rights. They argued that a post-Civil War 1866 treaty with the United Status guaranteed citizenship.

The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court acknowledged that the tribe amended its constitution in 1866 to accept the Freedmen. But that also means tribe could take action to exclude them, the justices said by a 4-1 vote.

"It stands to reason that if the Cherokee people had the right to define the Cherokee Nation citizenship in the above mentioned 1866 constitutional amendment, they would have the sovereign right to change the definition of Cherokee Nation citizenship in their sovereign expression in the March 3, 2007, constitutional amendment," Chief Justice Darell Matlock wrote.

The decision affects approximately 3,000 people who were enrolled based on their descent from the Freedmen portion of the Dawes Roll. Those who can prove they had an ancestor on the Indian portion can stay in the tribe.

“The court basically held that because the people properly exercised their right to amend their own Constitution that the court could not interfere with that right,” attorney general Diane Hammons said in a press release.

Get the Story:
Supreme Court vacates Freedmen ruling (The Tulsa World 8/23)
Cherokee Nation court terminates freedmen citizenship (The Tulsa World 8/23)
Cherokee Nation strips citizenship of Freedmen (Fox 23 8/22)

Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Decision:
Cherokee Nation Registrar v. Nash (August 22, 2011)

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