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In 1866, the Freedmen were made citizens of the Cherokee Nation by an amendment to the 1839 Cherokee Nation constitution. The wording of the constitutional amendment mirrored that found in the Treaty of 1866 which said the Freedmen and their descendants shall be taken to be citizens of the Cherokee Nation equal to native Cherokees.

In 1902, the Dawes Commission created a "final" roll of citizens of the Cherokee Nation. Congress ordered that the individuals listed thereon be only those persons recognized by the tribe as bonefide citizens. Because of controversy regarding whether all freed slaves of the Cherokees were eligible for land, or just those recognized as citizens, Congress provided in further legislation that those Freedmen classed as "adopted colored" by the Cherokee Nation on the 1880 Roll and those found upon the Wallace Roll would be enrolled. The Kerns-Clifton Roll was excluded because it contained the names of former slaves of the Cherokees who had not become citizens of the Nation.

Sometime in the 1950s, the Cherokee Nation filed suit against the United States in the U.S. Court of Claims in an effort to recoup the value of the land allottments issued to the Freedmen. The CN and the United States provided their evidence and the court ruled that the Freedmen were citizens of the Cherokee Nation with political and financial rights in the nation. Not only had they been granted citizenship and voting rights, they had been granted a right to the soil of the Nation.

Around 1960, the federal government began preparations for making a $14 million payment to the citizens of the Cherokee Nation for land taken in 1883 for which the tribe was underpaid. In its ruling on behalf of the CN, the federal court reaffirmed the right of the Freedmen to share in that payment.

In 1970, Congress passed the Principal Chiefs Act which restored democracy to the Five Civilized Tribes. Then Cherokee chief W.W. Keeler handed out voting cards to Cherokee citizens and many of those who voted were Freedmen.

In 1976, Ross Swimmer promulgated voting rules under authority of the PCA and called it a constitution. This constitution provided that membership shall consist of all persons listed on the Dawes Rolls and their descendants. The Freedmen have ancestor on Dawes and are therefore included.

In 1983, Ross Swimmer came to the conclusion that the Freedmen intended to vote against him in a block and that he might lose. He instructed the tribal registrar, Dora Mae Watie (whose ancestors were both Cherokees by blood and Freedmen) to impose a by blood requirement on membership. This requirement effectively excluded the Freedmen.

In 1983, Rev. Roger Nero, a Freedmen, filed suit against Ross Swimmer for denying him the right to vote. The case, heard in the 10th Circuit Court in Denver was dismissed based on the fact that Nero had not exhausted his tribal remedy. The court said the matter was one for tribal court.

In 1996, Bernice Riggs, a Freedmen descendant, filed suit against the Tribal Registrar Lela Ummerteskee after her application for membership in the CN was denied. Her case was lost in the ensuing controversy of the Byrd administration and was not ruled upon until a new judge had been appointed by Chad Smith. The court ruled that even though Bernice Riggs is Cherokee Indian by blood, the fact that her ancestors were enrolled as Freedmen without a blood quantum excludes her from membership in the CN.

In 2004, Lucy Allen, a Freedmen descendant, filed suit against the Tribal Council in an effort to prove that the legislative act requiring a CDIB card and proof of blood was unconstitutional. In a March 2006, majority opinion the Cherokee court ruled that the 1976 Constitution did include the Freedmen and they did have membership and voting rights in the tribe.

Immediately following the high courts ruling, members of the Chad Smith slate on the tribal council began agitating for a special election to vote out the Freedmen. Their efforts failed several times. The Chief then recruited several followers to carry a petition to bring about a special election.

The Judicial Appeals Tribunal heard an appeal of the validity of the petition, which contained the names of a litte over 3000 Cherokee voters. The Freedmen proved that the petition was rife with fraud, but a majority of the Court justices, all appointed by Chad Smith, ruled in favor of the petition. Smith then called for an election on February 10, 2007. This date proved to be impossible and the date was moved to March 3.

And the rest is history.

Regarding who was disfranchised by the vote, the answer is not all that complex if you know who is on what section of the Dawes Roll. First, there are two groups of white people on the Dawes Rolls. The first and largest group constitute the "Intermarried Whites." These are white men and women who married Cherokee Indians prior to November 1st, 1875. By marrying a Cherokee prior to that date, not only did these white people acquire voting rights, but they also acquired a right of soil. They were given an allottment in 1902. Whites who married Cherokees after that date were denied land because in 1875, the Cherokee Council provided that whites could still vote, but would have no right to land or money of the tribe. While much as been made of this group of "whites," in Smith's effort to rid the tribe of the Freedmen, it must be remembered that these whites were older adults married to Cherokee Indians. Their children were Cherokee Indians and appear on the By Blood section of the roll. If they had white children before their Cherokee spouse or after, it would be extremely rare. In all the years of tribal enrollment history, only one family has attempted to enroll under an intermarried white.

The second group of whites are those whose names appear upon the By Blood section of the Dawes Roll. Most of them are whites married to Shawnees and adopted in that tribe before that tribe was adopted in the Cherokee Nation. When we took in the Shawnees, we took in their white spouses too. The Shawnees were listed on the By Blood section and so were their white spouses. Another group of whites appear on the By Blood section and are descendants of Joseph Hardin Bennett. He had been married to a Cherokee and had widowers rights in the Nation. But he had fallen in love with a white woman after his Cherokee wife died and if he married her, he would lose his rights. The Council had passed an act allowing upstanding white men to purchase citizenship for $500. Mr. Bennett was the ONLY white man to do so. He was listed for enrollment as a Cherokee by blood, but died before the roll was closed and thus stricken from the Roll. However, all of his children and grandchildren living at the time were listed as Cherokees by blood, even though they have no blood degree next to their name. In accordance with the wording of the amendment which includes all persons listed on the By Blood section of the Dawes Rolls, these white people will remain members of the tribe.

Also on the By Blood section of the Roll are the descendants of Evan and John B. Jones, both missionaries to the Cherokees and granted citizenship in the Cherokee Nation to honor their tremendous contributions to the tribe. These white folks are also listed on the By Blood section and remain eligible for membership.

The Freedmen, as a group, include several categories of Cherokee citizens. Some of them were Cherokees by blood who had negro ancestry and were forced onto the Freedmen Roll against their will. Many are the children of their Cherokee masters or a marriage of a Cherokee man to a Freedwoman and were forced onto the Freedmen Roll because the Dawes Commission applied the rule that the child would take the status of the mother, no matter what the father might be. Thus, most Freedmen with Cherokee blood were dumped onto the Freedmen roll. Because the Freedmen Roll does not show whether or not the individual enrollee possesses any Cherokee blood, it has been easy for Smith and his minion to say they are not Cherokees, when he knows that most of them do possess some Cherokee blood. And he knows that whether or not they possess Cherokee blood, the right of the Freedmen to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation is guaranteed by a Treaty with the United States and this vote has violated that treaty.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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