Are Blacks Being Victimized Twice by the Cherokee?

News at Home

Ms. Coleman is Assistant Professor of Black American Studies at the University of Delaware.

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.

Slavery in Indian Country (now the state of Oklahoma) proved far more profitable to the tribes than it had been in the Southeast. By 1860 there were 4,000 slaves living in the Cherokee nation alone. Slavery in Indian Country over time came to differ little from white slavery in the Southern states as slave codes were strictly enforced to maintain the hierarchy between slave owner and slave society. For example, a Cherokee could be expelled from the tribe for teaching a slave to read and write; the penalty for a slave who raped a Cherokee woman was death. Also the tribe fully cooperated with the federal government in enforcing fugitive slave laws. Runaway Cherokee slaves were not uncommon. In 1842, four years after removal, 35 Cherokee slaves accompanied by their Seminole allies staged a slave revolt and attempted to escape through Creek territory. They were apprehended and brought back to their masters. Although the number of slave owners in Indian Country only amounted to approximately ten percent of the population, similar to southern society, the Indian planter class held sway over the tribes, many of whom resented both the Anglo-Saxon lifestyle and the peculiar institution.

The Cherokee nation under the leadership of Principal Chief John Ross, himself a slave owner, reluctantly sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Stand Watie, a Cherokee and the only Indian Confederate to obtain the rank of Brigadier General, was the last among the Confederate Generals to surrender to Union troops on June 25, 1865. In September of that year the Cherokees entered into a treaty with the United States which terms included establishing permanent peace among themselves and the federal government, the abolition of slavery, the partial ceding of lands, and the consolidation of all tribal governments within the Indian Territory. A subsequent treaty, made with the five tribes in July 1866, granted full citizenship rights to newly free slaves (Freedmen) in Indian Country. Article nine of the treaty reads in part:

They [Cherokee Government] further agree that all freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law, as well as all free colored persons who were in the country at the commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months, and their descendants, shall have all the rights of native Cherokees: Provided, That owners of slaves so emancipated in the Cherokee Nation shall never receive any compensation or pay for the slaves so emancipated.

Since the signing of the 1866 treaty, the Freedmen’s existence in the Cherokee nation has been tenuous to say the least. Tribal policies on behalf of the Freedmen have been informed by well entrenched southern attitudes toward people of African descent. Hence, the Freedmen’s struggle for equality and the recognition of full citizenship, while in some ways different, mirrors the struggle African Americans have endured as citizens in the United States since after the Civil War.

At first glance, the Freedmen dilemma appears to be a case of civil rights vs. tribal sovereignty. In 1968 Congress passed the Indian Civil Rights Act which guaranteed to tribal citizens due process and equal protection under the law. However, in 1975 Nixon signed the Indian Self - Determination Act, assuring Native nations that they can be autonomous while at the same time supported by the federal government. Consequently, tribal sovereignty, vaguely defined as a tribe’s right to have complete control of its internal affairs without interference from the Federal government, became the cornerstone of the new federal policy toward recognized Indian tribes. Nevertheless, tribal sovereignty was soon pitted against civil rights as can be seen in the landmark case of Santa Clara Pueblo v Martinez.

In 1978, Julia Martinez, a member of the Santa Clara Pueblo Tribe located near Santa Fe, New Mexico sought tribal membership for her two children, who were fathered by a Navajo Indian. According to tribal law, children fathered by non-members could not receive tribal enrollment. This law did not apply to the children of Santa Clara Pueblo men sired with non-member women. Martinez attempted to sue on grounds that the tribe’s refusal to enroll her children was discriminatory and violated her civil rights. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court sided with the tribe. The justices used the case to broaden the power of Indian tribes ruling that providing a federal forum in which tribal members could sue tribal governments on the basis of civil rights undermined tribal self determination [read; tribal sovereignty]. Ironically, the justice who wrote the majority opinion in this case was celebrated African-American civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshal.

Tribal sovereignty is the bedrock of Indian national identity. The right to chose one’s tribal members is a sacred aspect of tribal sovereignty. As noted by Fergus Bordewich in Killing the White Man’s Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century (1997): “To abrogate tribal decisions, particularly in the delicate area of membership, for whatever ‘good’ reasons, is to destroy cultural identity under the guise of saving it” (87). Unfortunately, federally recognized tribes have used tribal sovereignty as a cover for discrimination against Native women, black Indians and other “mixed bloods.” After Martinez, the number of cases reported to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights against tribal governments dropped considerably due to the growing consensus among tribal members that filing such complaints would provide little recourse.

Despite the Freedmen’s uphill battle for full tribal recognition, a minority within the Cherokee nation have expressed outrage over their expulsion. Most notably, David Cornsilk, a Cherokee nationalist, has called for his counterparts to exercise true sovereignty by embracing a traditional definition of Cherokee which predates Euro-American contact. As quoted in Scott L. Malcolmson’s One Drop of Blood: The American Misadventure of Race (2000), Cornsilk states:

These people [Freedmen] live like Cherokee. . . Many of them even speak Cherokee. There’s a lot of them who, their grandparents spoke the Cherokee language, and they even have passed it down. They might be more Cherokee than most Cherokees. . . . Throughout the history of our tribe, we have always made people who came into our tribe and established a true connection to us—either through marriage or adoption---we made them one of us. And then suddenly to have an entire branch of our family, the freedmen branch of our family, to be cut off, to be simply severed and told, ‘Now you’re no longer one of us,’ for political reasons, for racial reasons, is more than I can tolerate [120].

Not only does Cornsilk call for a redefinition of Cherokee based in traditional Cherokee identity, he also calls on his tribe to live up to its treaty obligations to the Freedmen just as they demand the federal government honor its treaty obligations to federally recognized tribes. Nullifying the 1866 treaty would be the height of hypocrisy, he argues. While many Cherokee resent the activism of the CBC on behalf of the Freedmen, Cornsilk believes the CBC is well within its right to call for an embargo against the Cherokee nation.

On June 21, 2007, Congresswoman Diane E. Watson (D-CA) introduced House bill H.R. 2824 which calls on Congress “To sever United States' government relations with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma until such time as the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma restores full tribal citizenship to the Cherokee Freedmen disenfranchised in the March 3, 2007, Cherokee Nation vote and fulfills all its treaty obligations with the Government of the United States, and for other purposes.” On March 13, 2008, the CBC sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), threatening to block House bill H. R. 2786, the Native American Housing and Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act of 2007, unless it included language that prevents the Cherokee Nation from receiving any benefits until it fully complies with its treaty obligations to the Freedmen. The Indian assistance bill which passed the House in September 2007 included such language; however, the Senate bill does not.

While Giago accuses the CBC of attacking tribal sovereignty, the case of the Freedmen is a human rights issue which places it beyond the domestic sphere and makes it a matter of international concern. It is undeniable that the tribe’s vote to override the 2006 Cherokee Supreme Court decision was racially motivated--a type of ethnic cleansing, as it were. To contend that only those of Cherokee “blood” can be a part of the Cherokee nation, not only distorts historical reality, but is a blatant denial of black-Cherokee kinship ties which occurred despite the enactment of tribal anti-miscegenation laws. Nevertheless, in an attempt to deflect attention from the issue at hand, Giago sensationalizes his account by drawing Barack Obama into the controversy. Given Obama's membership in the CBC, Giago suggests that the Democratic candidate for president, a champion of tribal sovereignty, is guilty of hypocrisy.

This is a time-worn game of guilt by association. There is no hard evidence that Obama has been directly involved in the proposed legislation. Watson’s bill (as well as the Reid letter) originated in the House not the Senate. According to an anonymous source in the CBC office, only 33 out of 43 members of the CBC signed the Reid letter, all of them members of the House. The CBC has not received a response from Reid. It appears that the Senate has yet to render a decision. Hence, to accuse Obama of being two-faced on Indian issues seems a bit premature.

Also, Giago states that the CBC is selective in its support of the Freedmen only because they are black:

It should be noted that California is one of the worst states in the Union where tribes are systematically removing and denying citizenship to members. Rep. Watson represents a voting district in that state. What has she done about this problem in her own district? And what about the rest of the Congressional Black Caucus? Are they not concerned that Indian people are often removed from tribes in California without even a democratic vote? Or will they only speak up when Black Americans are involved?

These statements are at once disingenuous and contradictory. First, the purpose of the CBC is to address the legislative concerns of African Americans and other minorities, which includes American Indians. Hence, the CBC has supported numerous legislative measures which benefit federally recognized tribes. Second, Giago’s article is based on the premise that efforts of the CBC on behalf of the Freedmen not only jeopardize the sovereignty of the Cherokee nation, but all recognized tribes within the boundaries of the United States. Are we now to assume that Giago is concerned about tribal sovereignty only when it involves the Cherokee nation? Does Giago mean to suggest that the CBC should be concerned with human rights violations within Indian tribes only when the violations are carried out undemocratically?

It is not my intent to be facetious or to make light of the matter at hand. I realize this is a sensitive situation. Its complexities are rooted in the divisiveness of racial politics, which have plagued our nation since its inception—what Condoleezza Rice recently referred to as “America’s birth defect.” American Indians, the most invisible minority within the borders of the U. S., have endured centuries of oppression. They continue to struggle for survival and autonomy. Nevertheless, tribal sovereignty should no longer be allowed to remain a shield for federally recognized tribes which engage in discriminatory practices. There must be some measure of accountability. The racially motivated vote to expel the Freedmen from the Cherokee nation by rejecting the 2006 Cherokee Supreme Court’s ruling, which deemed the act unconstitutional, is a human rights violation which the CBC and Congress should not ignore. Withholding funds from the Cherokee nation will send the clear message to Indian Country that while the protection of tribal sovereignty will continue to be honored by the federal government, engaging in the violation of human rights will not be tolerated, even if it is sanctioned by a democratic vote.

Related Links

  • News Story: Obama Reconciles CBC Membership with Tribal Sovereignty Support

  • comments powered by Disqus

    More Comments:

    sean r nordwall - 5/16/2008

    I most certainly disagree with your cite. The Five tribes act stated that the Freedmen Roll be made up of only "africans", but this is not what happened in the assemly of the Dawes Rolls. Blacks with Cherokee Blood were placed on the Freedmen Roll, I would assume that the prevailing attitude of the Federal government at the time would dictate how the Rolls were assembled. It is a fact that the Government wanted to take our land, and one easy way to do so was to place as many people on the Freedmen Roll as possible so that thier land was not "restricted trust land". I suggest you read Angie Debo's And the waters still run.

    Standardization is in fact the issue here. It is uniform to accept the Dawes in its entirety, but it gets prickly when one tries and dissassemble a 100 year old document that was created by the very federal government whom the Cherokee Nation administration is now rallying against. Another uniform standardization would be to mandate an actual enforceable blood quantum, and not one that merely excludes only the Freedmen portion of the Dawes Roll.

    Standardization again is not standard when descendents of fullblood white people are allowed to enroll when Cherokee Freedmen are not.

    The reliance on the Five Tribes Act is alarming in itself. No where does it state that the Freedmen are excluded from enrollment, but it does state that our chief can be selected by the President, and that:
    ..."That after the approval of this Act no per son shall be enrolled as a citizen or freedman of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, or Seminole tribes of Indians in the Indian Territory"...

    I would not rely on such a document, nor try and prove its enforcement today. this act certainly is no longer enforceable, unless the Cherokee administration wishes the only citizens of the tribe are the few original enrollees left.

    The 1866 treaty clearly states that the Freedmen and their descendents are to be citizens, this is the law of the land.

    Linda Turnbull Lewis - 5/13/2008

    I agree with Sara regarding standardization of the citizenship criteria. Any nation without standardized laws and policy would create injustice, an unstable governement and chaos for all citizens. The Cherokee citizenship roll today is a clear and undisputable fact in and of itself that racial bias has never been a part of this issue and it never will. Would also like to point out the following for Mr. Nordwall… “One hundred years ago it was Congress -- and not the Cherokee Nation -- who extinguished by statute any entitlement to enrollment or property in the Nation by descendants of non-Indian Freedmen. The Five Tribes Act of 1906 further superseded the language of Article IX of the 1866 Treaty and removed any lingering doubt about who was included in the class defined as Freedmen. Certain Members of Congress and non-Indian Freedmen descendants wrongly rely on this Article of the 1866 Treaty for Freedmen descendant citizenship claims in the Cherokee Nation. The federal courts have held the same. Today, the Cherokee Nation's opponents in current federal litigation and certain Members of Congress are attempting to coerce the Cherokee people to grant to non-Indians something to which they are not entitled: citizenship in the Cherokee Nation. Although these issues were resolved in favor of the Cherokee Nation 20 years ago in the case of Nero v. Cherokee Nation, 892 F.2d 1457 (10th Cir. 1989), non-Indian descendants of Freedmen are re-litigating the same issues in federal and tribal court. Let the courts decide. The Cherokee Nation has always adhered to the rulings of the courts. Will Congress do the same?”

    Sara Hoklotubbe - 5/13/2008

    I agree with Mr. Nordwall that the Dawes Rolls are not perfect. As I stated before, there is an untold number of Indians who should have been listed, but were not. These folks can never be card-carrying citizens of the Cherokee Nation, either. How do we reconcile allowing non-Indian freedmen into the tribe and not allowing Cherokees into the tribe as citizens? Shouldn’t everyone have to follow the same guidelines?

    For those who are listed on the Dawes Rolls, it was to their benefit to not have their blood quantum listed as one-half or more, so their land would not fall under the supervision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It is those Indians who more readily lost their land to unscrupulous “Indian agents,” than those who were of a lesser quantum. So the argument that the freedmen lost their land due to no blood quantum does not make sense to me.

    Mr. Nordwall’s statement that “our ancestors decided to adopt the Dawes Roll into our Treaty of 1866,” is erroneous since the Dawes Rolls were not in existence for some thirty years after the Treaty of 1866.

    However, I agree with Mr. Nordwall that our Cherokee laws governing citizenship should be uniform, and that is indeed what the amendment accomplished. It provides for the inclusion of everyone as Cherokee citizens, regardless of their ethnicity, as long as they have at least one Cherokee ancestor listed on the Dawes Rolls. If this was racism then we would not have over 1500 Cherokee freedmen who have always been and will always be Cherokee citizens.

    William Katz - 5/13/2008

    Professor Arica L. Coleman has argued that the Cherokee “freedmen” are part of the Nation and cannot be expelled. Those who dispute her rely on the argument that Native American sovereignty trumps everything. But what about the Treaty the Cherokees and the four other “civilized” Nations signed in July 1866 with the U.S. government? Professor Coleman cites article Nine in which the Cherokee government agrees to accept as members those people [members] Cherokees previously held as slaves. Does not a treaty immediately become part of the highest law of the land for the United States and for all nations, including sovereign Native American Nations?
    The United States has consistently violated its treaties with the Cherokees and other indigenous Nations. Cherokees and other Native Americans have correctly denounced as "fork-tongued" white officials who engaged in precisely that kind of violation. The noted author and authority on Native Americans, Professor Jack D. Forbes, who believes that his Native American ancestors may have included Cherokees, states that no one can ignore parts of a signed treaty they no longer like, and doing so is particularly dangerous for Native Americans. Historically Indians adhere to treaties and obligations even while whites ignored their promises and flagrantly violated treaties.
    Professor Forbes further points out that Cherokee common law always granted freedom to the children of captives of all races, and these children then became participating members of the Nation. A sovereign State, he emphasizes, includes all kinds of people in its jurisdiction or else it is little else than a racial family that lives according to its self-articulated notions of superior blood. If a State such as Connecticut or New Jersey decided to expel or nullify the rights of some citizens based on blood purity, skin color, facial type, or ancestry, could it hide behind its “sovereignty”?
    Also to suddenly and summarily exclude people from membership in a Cherokee Nation that their ancestors worked so hard to build and nurture, and for a Nation they once toiled as slaves without compensation, dismisses a history of shared sacrifice, and declares a willingness to abandon and dispossess former relatives, friends and allies. This time "White blood" is not questioned, only "African blood." But what about next time Cherokees may seek to expel members because of blood?
    Why would anyone want to promote notions of "good" or "bad" blood more than half a century after the Nazi death camps exposed the final destination of this kind of warped thinking? Why would members of Indigenous Nations argue for blood purity five centuries after ferocious foreign conquerors — claiming the natural superiority of their European blood, civilization and religion — carried out the most devastating genocide the world has ever witnessed?
    William Loren Katz is the author of BLACK INDIANS: A HIDDEN HERITAGE. An expanded version of this essay appears under "articles" at his webiste: WWW.WILLIAMLKATZ.COM

    Ray Evans Harrell - 5/13/2008

    Although I agree with many of the assistant professors points I take umbrage at the selectivity of her history.

    There was an attempt at African American colonization by Blacks led by E.P. McCabe in the 1880s of Territory stolen from the Indians. McCabe was a New York resident. His dream began in 1883. It was termed a colonization and an attempt to turn the stolen territory into a black state in the U.S.. However the first black communities on Indian land happened at about the same time as the Washita Massacre near Cheyenne, Oklahoma.


    Those communities made up of Freedman from the Five Civilized Tribes were welcomed by Indian People. It seems the native New Yorker was not and the thousands that he stirred to immigrate to Oklahoma territory were seen as aggressive amongst the Indian Nations.

    and: The Kansas State Historical Society From Sodom to the Promised Land:
    E.P. McCabe and the Movement for Oklahoma Colonizaton By Martin Dann
    Autumn, 1974 (Vol. XL, No. 3), pages 370 to 378

    This was a general time of outside pressure on all Indian peoples in what was called the “Indian Wars” (massacres ) , the banning of all Indian Religion in the American Indian Religious Crimes Codes of 1883 and the beginning of Washington’s pressure to do away with all Indian religion and culture. Consider this from the historian Angie Debo:
    In 1883, a small group of Eastern humanitarians began to meet annually at Lake Mohonk, ... they discussed the Indian problem with crusading motive. Senator Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts, a distinguished Indian theorist, gave a glowing description of a visit of made to the Indian Territory. The most partisan Indian would hardly have painted such an idealized picture of his people’s happiness and prosperity and culture, but, illogically, the senator advocated a change in this perfect society because it held the wrong principles of property ownership.

    Speaking apparently of the Cherokees, he said:

    “The head chief told us that there was not a family in that whole nation that had not a home of its own. There was not a pauper in that nation, and the nation did not owe a dollar. It built its own capitol, in which we had this examination, and it built its schools and its hospitals. Yet the defect of the system was apparent. They have got as far as they can go, because they own their land in common. It is Henry George’s system, and under that there is no enterprise to make your home any better than that of your neighbors.

    There is no selfishness, which is at the bottom of civilization. Till this people will consent to give up their lands, and divide them among their citizens so that each can own the land he cultivates, they will not make much more progress.” (36) 1900, pp. 25-32; Lake Mohonk Conference, Report, 1904, pp 5-6; Department of the Interior, Annual Report, 1900, pp. 655-735.

    I would note that the Cherokee Freedman were a part of this idyllic paradise at the time as members of the Cherokee Nation. But then the Europeans began to organize everything.

    In 1883, a council drawn from the American elite, organized time across the nation in the time zones ostensibly for Railroad schedules, another elite commission disbanded the Indian Nations and organized the land for white Settlers in the Dawes Laws and created genocide in the name of “social experimentation.” Indian land was considered a place to try out the latest social theories of the non-Indian culture. (Hitler would later mention admiringly the use of these social theories by Americans on Indians.) That same council disbanded Indian Religions (in a country that claimed freedom of religion) in the American Indian Religious Crimes Codes of 1883. The elite also formed Carlisle Indian School in that same year to organize and “civilize” Indian youth. Organization by the “civil” society was everywhere.

    And in the midst of all of this pressure on Indian Nations in Indian Territory and a dream to create an Indian state of Sequoyah came McCabe and thousands of former slaves onto recently stolen Indian land slipping away. I know many stories about wealthy Indians who had their ranches ripped from them only to die as outlaws as they resisted.

    I don’t agree with the story about 70% of the CNO voting to kick out the Freedman. There are over 200,000 members of the CNO and about 20% of them bothered to vote. When an Indian doesn’t vote it usually means that they don’t approve. Just as the fear is that Americans who don’t approve of one of the Presidential candidates may sit home in defiance.

    The other point here is that there are old deep feelings that were present in Indian country up until Brown vs. Board of Education. In many Indian counties there was not segregation but exclusion. That was true in Ottawa County where I grew up. So when you write a history, don’t just tell one side of it. Try to create an understanding of how we got where we are and then work to arrive at a reconciliation through consensus. You also might draw a cultural point in the difference between small remnants of former nations, some were as large as France, that are struggling to keep their traditions in the face of a general white and black presence that has forgotten theirs and even wonders why anyone should care since they are “all Christians.” But they aren’t. The Aruba, Dinke and others in the Islands feel the same way as the Indians. This is made clear by their parents when they send them home to the islands to be taught the ancient ways away from America’s generalist White and Black Cultures.

    The real story is so much more interesting than an agenda.

    You as an assistant professor of Black Studies should write less from an agenda and more from the actual history of the time. Ethnic Studies programs are under attack from the right for poor scholarship. You should be more careful.

    sean r nordwall - 5/12/2008

    I must respectfully disagree with Mrs. Hoklotubbe that this is not a racial issue. I do, however believe that many people may have voted for this issue without a certain racial bias, even though the issue is inhrently racist by being based on an inherently racist Dawes Roll.

    this Issue was racialized from the outset. In Oklahoma there were calls to "save our daughters" from the Freedmen and there were flyers with lowriders asking the question: "do you really want them in our tribe?" I dont think one would argue against this being racist.

    The Dawes Rolls were only meant to be allotment lists, and the Freedmen's BQ was left out so they could more easily be dispossessed of their land, which is what happened. Our ancestors decided to adopt the Dawes Roll into our Treaty of 1866, and thus the Freedmen are protected by our treaty. The only way we can change a treaty is by Federal Legislation ,without it, we must accept the Freedmen as Citizens.

    One more point of blaring Racism is the fact that the amendment as written DOES allow for Fullblooded white people to be enrolled as citizens. There was a disenrollment of a total of 8 'adopted' whites along with the Freedmen, but the Nation failed to disenroll the countless adopted whites listed on both the Shawnee and Delaware Tribes' Rolls, both of whom can still be citizens of the Nation.

    this is a very complex issue, and there are ways in which we can modify our enrollment. However, modifications must be uniform, and cannot target a minority class of citizens, without Federal Legislation.

    Lets take the argument, and flip it the other way. What do the Freedmen all share in common? they share the fact that they are descedants of African-american Slaves. So if we eliminate ALL the descendants of African american slaves, but allow adopted fullblood whites to be citizens, how is this not racist?

    Sara Hoklotubbe - 5/12/2008

    The assumption by Ms. Coleman that the vote to amend the Cherokee constitution was racial politics is wrong. It had nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with sovereignty. Federal courts have always held that the Cherokees have the right to determine their own citizenship just like every other sovereign nation in the world.

    The Cherokee Nation includes citizens of every ethnicity, including Afro-Americans, Hispanics, Asian, German, French, other tribes, etc. But, these citizens must all have one thing in common and that is a Cherokee ancestor listed on the Dawes Rolls. This article makes it sound like all Afro-Americans were voted out of the tribe. That is not true. There over 1500 freedmen who have Cherokee ancestors listed on the Cherokee-by-blood roll. They have always been and will always be Cherokee citizens. It is only those who cannot prove they have a Cherokee ancestor who will lose their citizenship based on the new amendment.

    There are untold numbers of Indian people who cannot find their ancestor listed on the Dawes rolls, either. These folks cannot be Cherokee citizens just like the freedmen who cannot find their ancestors on those same rolls. There are countless people who think their great-great grandmother was a Cherokee princess, the only problem is they just can’t find her name on the rolls.

    If the Cherokee Nation is forced to enroll non-Indian freedmen who aren’t on the rolls, then we will have to open up our citizenship to every person in the country who thinks they may have had a Cherokee ancestor somewhere down the line. This is ridiculous. We are an Indian tribe and we have the sovereign right to remain made up of Indian citizens.

    As far as the CBC is concerned, Diane Watson is only concerned with the black folks. She hasn’t said one word about the white people who lost their citizenship. This sounds like preferential treatment to me.

    As far as Obama is concerned, he has already agreed that the CBC should stand down and let the courts decide this issue. I agree.

    sean r nordwall - 5/12/2008

    I applaud Ms. Coleman for her clarification of the issues at hand. The Disenrollment of the Freedmen Cherokee goes against hundreds of years of Cheorkee Tradition, and over one hundred years of Federal Law and policy. I think it should be obvious that the Cherokee Chief, and his administration have pushed this issue for solely political purposes; the main one being that a voting block of over 2,000 people would surely cost him a re-election.

    The Freedmen are Cherokee, and many by blood, this was simply not documented in the dawes rolls. The Cherokee Blood Quantum is down to 1/9,06ths, with the Tribe also allowing 'adopted' whites who are on the Shawnee and Delaware rolls, as well as other whites who simply bought their way onto our 'by blood' rolls. For our Nation to simply disenroll the Freedmen Cherokee, must be looked at as a solely racial issue, given the facts I have presented above.

    Again, I applaud Ms. Coleman, and I pray that the Cherokee Nation does what is right and just, so that we may protect all the hardworking cherokee people and families that rely on the federal money in the form of a paycheck.

    other links to read:



    Robert Lee Gaston - 5/12/2008

    Per usual, the comments provide better information than the primary tome.

    There is however, one thing that I wonder about. Why all the effort to give Mr. Obama cover on the issue?

    If one is to believe all the things he was not involved in, just what has he been doing all this time?

    Mike Graham - 5/12/2008

    The federal government has no Constitutional RIGHT to tell the Cherokee Nation or any other Nation who can or cannot be a citizen of their Nation.

    It is racism for a tax supported US caucus to excluded members because of their race.!

    The US government broke all treaties made with Indian Nations, Indians have every right to say the US government courts have NO rights to here and rule over one issue covering a US government treaty until the federal government honors the treaty 100%.

    If the federal government does not have to honor it's treaties 100% why should it's courts force Indian Nations to honor any part of them.! There is no reason to.

    The federal government terminated all Indian governments, FACT. Today the federal government recognize Indian Nations without having to honor it's treaties with Indian Nations, fact.

    US government treaties were written by and for the federal government, not the health and well being of Indians, fact.

    Racism, slavery and Jim Crow laws all started against American Indians, fact.

    Lynching's hanging's in America, American Indians top the record in this federal governments history, fact.!


    All Indian Nations citizenship past and today, are based on your tribal Indian blood heritage to an Indian Nation, fact.! Their are over 500 Indian Nations, the only thing that makes them the tribe they are, is their Indian blood heritage to an Indian Nation, fact.!

    Their are millions of people out here today that have Cherokee blood heritage, if they cannot prove their Cherokee blood heritage to a family member listed on the Cherokee nations roll books, they cannot be a citizen of the Nation, and no federal treaty can make anyone Indian, or a citizen of any Indian nation, fact.!

    Historical Note: Slavery in America: Black on Black slavery

    Another problem arising from such a demand for slave reparations, is knowing whom exactly would be entitled to them. In American Heritage of Feb/Mar 1993, vol 441, under the title, 'Selling Poor Steven', beginning on page 90, the official US Census of 1830 is cited, which shows that there were 3,775 free blacks who owned 12,740 black slaves.

    The story also outlines the history of slavery in the US, and surprisingly the first slave owner was Mr Anthony Johnson, of Northampton, Virginia, who was a black African. His slave was called John Casor, who was the first slave for life and also a fellow black African.



    Gayle Ross - 5/12/2008

    The bias in this article is apparent by the numerous errors in both history and law. For example, less than two percent of the Cherokees ever practised slavery. 296 out of a population of 22,000 to be exact. More than ten times as many free blacks in the American South also practised slavery. What diminishment of their descendants' rights is appropriate? And over seventy percent of the Cherokee men fought for the UNION. Ms Coleman neglects to mention that. More Cherokees died fighting to end slavery than ever owned a slave.

    Ms. Coleman does have one thing right. This is a human rights issue, not a civil rights one. Following the recent US review of compliance with the International Convention to End ALL FORMS of Racial Discrimination, the UN monitoring body told the United States that they must use the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a guide to their legal obigations under the ICERD. The Declaration says:

    Article 8

    1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
    2. States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:
    (a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
    (b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
    d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;
    (e) Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.

    Terry Chapin - 5/11/2008

    I am amazed that someone who took the time to write such a long article would not take the time to verify her facts. This is such an obvious piece of unsupported political propaganda that it brings shame on GMU and HNN as well as the author.