Cherokee Indians: We are free to oust blacks

Daily News Article   —   Posted on September 15, 2011

(from msnbc.com) [Reuters] – OKLAHOMA CITY – The nation’s second-largest Indian tribe said on Tuesday that it would not be dictated to by the U.S. government over its move to banish 2,800 African Americans from its citizenship rolls.

“The Cherokee Nation will not be governed by the BIA,” Joe Crittenden, the tribe’s acting principal chief, said in a statement responding to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs [BIA].

Crittenden, who leads the tribe until a new principal chief is elected, went on to complain about unnamed congressmen meddling in the tribe’s self-governance.

The reaction follows a letter the tribe received on Monday from BIA Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk, who warned that the results of the September 24 Cherokee election for principal chief will not be recognized by the U.S. government if the ousted members, known to some as “Cherokee Freedmen,” are not allowed to vote.

The dispute stems from the fact that some wealthy Cherokee owned black slaves who worked on their plantations in the South. By the 1830s, most of the tribe was forced to relocate to present-day Oklahoma, and many took their slaves with them. The so-called Freedmen are descendants of those slaves.

After the Civil War, in which the Cherokee fought for the South, a treaty was signed in 1866 guaranteeing tribal citizenship for the freed slaves.

The U.S. government said that the 1866 treaty between the Cherokee tribe and the U.S. government guaranteed that the slaves were tribal citizens, whether or not they had a Cherokee blood relation.

The African Americans lost their citizenship last month when the Cherokee Supreme Court voted to support the right of tribal members to change the tribe’s constitution on citizenship matters.

The change meant that Cherokee Freedmen who could not prove they have a Cherokee blood relation were no longer citizens, making them ineligible to vote in tribal elections or receive benefits.

Besides pressure from the BIA to accept the 1866 Treaty as the law of the land, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is withholding a $33 million disbursement to the tribe over the Freedmen controversy.

Attorneys in a federal lawsuit in Washington are asking a judge to restore voting rights for the ousted Cherokee Freedmen in time for the September 24 tribal election for Principal Chief.

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from MSNBC or Thomson Reuters. Visit the website at msnbc.msn.com.


Questions

1.  Who are the Cherokee Freedmen?

2.  What ruling has the Cherokee Nation made regarding the Freedmen?

3.  How does the ruling affect the Freedmen? (See “Background” below the questions.)

4.  How has the federal government responded to the Cherokee Nation’s decision?

5.  The Cherokee Nation says it will not be governed by the BIA.  What do you think of their decision and their response to defy the BIA’s opposition to their decision?


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Background

ON NATIVE AMERICANS OWNING BLACK SLAVES:

  • Black Indians is a term that refers to people of African-American descent, usually with significant Native American ancestry, who also have strong ties to Native American culture, and social and historical traditions.
  • Certain Native American tribes had close relations with African Americans, especially those in the Southeast, where slavery was prevalent.
  • Members of the Five Civilized Tribes held enslaved blacks, who migrated with them to the West during Indian Removal in 1830 and later.
  • In peace treaties with the US after the American Civil War, the tribes, which had sided with the Confederacy, were required to emancipate slaves and give them full citizenship rights in their nations.
  • The Black Indians were known as tribal Freedmen of the five civilized tribes (Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Freedmen).
  • In addition, some black maroon communities had been allied with the Seminole in Florida and intermarried. The Black Seminole included those with and without Indian ancestry.
  • The Cherokee, Creek and Seminole have created controversy in recent decades as they tightened rules for membership in their nations and excluded Freedmen who did not have at least one Indian ancestor on the early 20th century Dawes Rolls. Lawsuits are pending. (from wikipedia)

ON THE CHEROKEE FREEDMEN DECISION:

  • Last month, the Supreme Court of the Cherokee nation approved decision to oust thousands of descendants of black slaves who were brought to Oklahoma some 170 years ago by Native American owners from the Cherokee tribe.
  • But the federal government is now warning the Cherokee nation, the country’s second largest Indian tribe, to think twice about that decision.
  • To recap, the Cherokee court ruled that it was proper to kick the slave descendants, so-called “Freedmen,” out of the tribe. (Click here for details.)
  • That decision could result in thousands of Freedmen losing their eligibility for free health care and other benefits such as education concessions, Reuters reports in this piece.
  • Cherokee Nation officials maintain that the tribe, as a sovereign nation, has the right to amend its membership requirements, according to Reuters.
  • But the assistant secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs [BIA] today called on the tribe to restore the descendants’ membership, including voting rights and benefits such as medical care and food stipends, the Associated Press reports.
  • The bureau, according to AP, said that the tribe’s expulsion of the Freedmen is unconstitutional. (from blogs.wsj.com)

Resources

Read the full statement from Cherokee National’s acting principal chief Joe Crittenden at cherokee.org.