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Cherokee Chief Moves to Remove Cherokee citizens
For earlier posts written by Marilyn Vann, see posts of cherokee79
Cherokee Chief Calls for Removal of the Cherokee freedmen from Tribal Membership Status
On Monday, March 13, 2006 at the regular tribal council meeting, Principal Chief Chad Smith of the Cherokee nation of Oklahoma called for the tribal council to propose and approve a constitutional amendment which would be placed on the ballot at the next Cherokee general election to allow the Cherokee voters to strip the Cherokee Freedmen from their status as tribal citizens. The Cherokee Freedmen are descendants of freed slaves and free mixed African Cherokee peoples who received Cherokee citizenship in 1866 based on a treaty with the US government and based on amendments to the 1839 Constitution. This comes on the heels of a March 7 2006 decision by the Cherokee nation highest tribal court, the JAT, which ruled that tribal council ordinances which had prevented the Cherokee freedmen from obtaining tribal membership cards and tribal voting cards after 1983 were illegal. The court ruled that under a constitution approved by the Cherokee voters in 1976 and approved by the US government, that the tribal council did not have the authority to pass laws which would strip tribal membership and voting rights from any class of citizens or their descendants who were listed on the Dawes Final rolls prepared by the US government and approved by Congress in 1907. The Principal Chief indicated that the Freedmen had been “paid off” when they received their allotments and had thus received more than the former slaves of US citizens. He also indicated that the Freedmen had not built up the tribe for more than 100 years and now should not be able to receive the benefits of tribal membership. He stated that the 2 justices who had upheld the Cherokee freedmen citizenship rights had overturned a prior case on the freedmen and had interpreted the constitution different from what many people had been thinking was correct for many years. He stated that he knew the council was divided on the freedmen issues and named one by one those council members who had not supported the Principal Chief when he proposed filing a lawsuit against the Department of Interior/Bureau of Indian Affairs last month which had not approved a constitutional amendment which would remove the US government from being able to approve or disapprove any new constitution or constitutional amendment approved by the Cherokee voters. Cherokee Freedmen are litigating this proposed constitutional amendment because Cherokee freedmen were not permitted to vote on it. The Chief indicated that the Cherokee people had the right to have an all Indian tribe and did not have to have a tribe with all of the classes of citizens as was the makeup of the tribe in prior years.
Marilyn Vann, President of the Descendants of freedmen association, and a plaintiff in the lawsuit Vann et al Versus Norton was personally present during this “state of the nation: speech by the Principal Chief. She has the following statement to give to the press on this matter:
I am amazed that the Principal Chief would propose taking such actions to remove a class of citizens of the tribe who have held citizenship in the Cherokee nation for almost 140 years. Is the Cherokee nation a “race” or a “nation”? The Federal government does not have government to government relationships with “races” but with nations. It is difficult to conceive that the leadership of the Cherokee nation can embrace as tribal members those individuals who merely based on appearance appear to be Caucasian people but cannot accept a small number of people who are descendants of long time tribal members who have some African blood but most of whom have many documents besides the Dawes Final roll (which did not list “blood quantums” of people listed as freedmen) to prove their Indian ancestry. And even for those who cannot establish a Cherokee “blood quantum, they have rights as promised under US laws and the laws of the Cherokee nation. As for why the Freedmen received land allotments, they received allotments as did every other tribal member. Regarding the Chiefs beliefs that the freedmen have not built up the Cherokee nation for more than 100 years, the tribe has not been functioning as a tribal nation for most of the last 100 years. For more of that time period, there was a Chief appointed by the US government, no tribal court, no tribal council, and no tribal employees. And some years the US president did not even appoint a principal Chief. Those Cherokee freedmen tribal members who were employed by the tribal government during the early 1980s were stripped by their jobs by Chief Ross Swimmer when the Freedmen tribal members opposed him for reelection. That is when they stopped “building up the tribe ” and it was not their choice to stop doing so. The tribal government has basically only been functioning since 1976. If Cherokee Freedmen have not used their skills as Doctors, Nurses, CPAs, attorneys and engineers since 1983, it is because they have been kicked out of the tribe and with no voice in the matter. Every day people obtain tribal membership cards in the Cherokee nation who they and their ancestors have lived in far away states since the early part of the 20th century and have contributed nothing to the Cherokee nation since 1910. The Cherokee Freedmen people have only asked for their rights as promised by the 1866 treaty and in the 1976 constitution which the freedmen people voted on along with other tribal members. And the JAT has made its decision that the freedmen have been wrongly denied their rights. Would any Chief or former Chief of the Cherokee nation like to have had the rights of Cherokee people to American citizenship put before the voters during the first part of the 20th Century? Or issues regarding terminations of all tribal entities during the 1950s? The American people, not understanding the place of the Indian nations in the US and the promises given to the tribal nations might have voted to terminate all tribes, in spite of the promises made to the Indian nations by earlier US government officials. The Descendants of Freedmen, those with and without “Indian blood” call for the leadership of the Cherokee nation to keep the promises made to the Cherokee freedmen by earlier tribal leaders. Chief Smith cited the words of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black taken from the case Tuscarora Power Company in November 2003 in Washington DC “Great nations like great men should keep their word”. WE call for the Principal Chief Smith to remember these words.
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