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Radio: Cherokee Freedmen cite treaty in fight over citizenship

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

The Australian Broadcasting Comporation heads to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma to find out more about the Freedmen citizenship dispute:
JANE COWAN: "Honour the treaties" has been a mantra in Indian country when dealing with the US government.

But now the Cherokee people of Oklahoma are asking a judge to let them expel descendants of the freed slaves once kept by their tribe in spite of a 150-year-old treaty they signed with the US government - an agreement that's been called the Indian version of the US Civil Rights Act, a document that guarantees the rights and protection of freed slaves.

JON VELIE: What we're dealing with is the ripping away of the heritage and civil and property rights of a people who're a minority. We're dealing with an oppressed group of people that's oppressing another group of people.

JANE COWAN: Jon Velie is the lead counsel representing the descendents of the slaves, known as the Cherokee Freedmen.

JON VELIE: The Cherokee Freedmen have been with the Cherokee legally for seven generations - 148 years. That is longer than most Americans can trace to an American ancestor. And in the era of Obama, the first African-American president, that feels completely wrong.

JANE COWAN: The Cherokee Nation has a population of about 300,000, including about 30,000 descendents of Cherokee Freedmen.

That the Cherokee kept slaves is one of the lesser known dimensions of a complicated chapter in American history.

Get the Story:
Cherokee, slaves and tribal citizenship (ABC News 6/15)

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