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Federal judge to hear arguments in Cherokee Freedmen lawsuit

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., will hear arguments this afternoon in a Cherokee Freedmen lawsuit.

The Freedmen are the descendants of former slaves held within the Cherokee Nation. Their ancestors are listed on the Dawes Roll and they were made citizens of the tribe after an 1866 treaty with the U.S.

The Freedmen won decisions in tribal court and federal court in support of their rights. That led to a referendum in which the majority of Cherokee voters amended the tribal constitution to deny citizenship to the Freedmen unless they could prove they had an Indian ancestor on the Dawes Roll.

Last month, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional amendment was valid. That means about 2,800 Freedmen lose their citizenship, including the right to vote.

The decision prompted Marilyn Vann, the president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association, to file a motion for preliminary injunction in her ongoing federal court lawsuit against the Interior Department and the tribe. Vann wants to be able to vote in an election this Saturday for principal chief.

In total, 1,233 Freedmen descendants voted in the first election for chief. Their votes are enough to sway the close race between incumbent Chad Smith and challenger Bill John Baker.

Fewer than 300 votes separated the two candidates in the first election, which was held in June. Those results, however, were thrown out due to uncertainties.

"My impression is that an overwhelming majority of the freedmen would be supporting Bill John Baker," attorney Ralph Keen Jr., who is representing the Freedmen in tribal court, told the Associated Press. "They feel like the past administration was so staunchly opposed to their rights that any change would be a change for the better."

Today's hearing takes place at 2pm in Courtroom 27A - 6th Floor of the federal court in Washington, D.C.

Get the Story:
Freedmen vote could sway Cherokee chief election (AP 9/19)
Cherokees dealing with election, freedmen descendant issues this week (The Tulsa World 9/20)

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

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Steve Russell: The circus that has become the Cherokee Nation (9/15)
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Decision allows Cherokee Nation to remove Freedmen from rolls (8/23)

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