Freedmen descendants protest outside a Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 2008. Photo courtesy Marilyn Vann

Oklahoma tribes still struggling with Freedmen citizenship issues

The Freedmen of the Cherokee Nation are still waiting for a decision in their long-running citizenship lawsuit.

The Freedmen are the descendants of former African slaves held within the tribe. They believe an 1866 treaty confirms their status as citizens, a position supported by the Obama administration.

But it's been more than two years and a federal judge in Washington, D.C., has yet to issue a ruling. That has left some 30,000 Cherokee Freedmen in limbo because the tribe hasn't processed their citizenship applications, KGOU reported.

"All I want to do is be recognized. You agreed to that treaty. I didn’t. They did," Raymond Foreman told KGOU.

The tribe's highest court sided with the Cherokee Freedmen in a different lawsuit and about 2,800 were enrolled before the tribe amended its constitution to deny them citizenship. That's what led to the pending case in federal court.

The Seminole Nation also tried to deny citizenship to its Freedmen but the Bureau of Indian Affairs prevented that from happening. Yet the tribe continues to deny certain services and benefits to the Freedmen.

"We are members of this tribe and they still deny us because we are black. But we can date back as far as 1666 that we are Seminole," LeEtta Osborne Sampson told KGOU.

The Seminole Freedmen tried to sue the BIA over the denial of certain services but the federal courts ruled that the case could not proceed without the involvement of the tribe. The tribe, however, can't be joined in the case due to its sovereign immunity.

Read More on the Story:
Part of the Tribe, But Shut Out (KGOU 8/30)
Some Cherokee Freedmen are Citizens, While Others are Left Out (KGOU 8/10)
Freedmen Decision Hinges on Interpretation of 1866 Treaty (KGOU 8/2)

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