The U.S. Department of the Interior has requested a summary judgment in a long-standing lawsuit over the tribal citizenship eligibility of the Cherokee Freedmen descendants.
In a motion filed late Friday, the department argued the Treaty of 1866, which guarantees "all the rights of native Cherokees" to Cherokee Freedmen and their descendants, extends to tribal citizenship, despite a vote to the contrary by the tribe.
"The Cherokee Nation should be enjoined from denying tribal membership rights to descendants of those individuals listed on the Freedmen portion of the Cherokee Dawes Rolls," wrote acting assistant attorney general Robert Dreher.
About 3,000 Freedmen descendants are currently enrolled in the tribe after a 2007 vote amending the Cherokee constitution restricting Cherokee Nation citizenship to direct descendants of individuals of the Dawes Rolls.
"Interior agrees that Cherokee Nation is a sovereign entity that retains powers of self-government," Dreher wrote.
"These retained powers include, as a general matter, the power to define its own membership. However, tribal authority, including the right to define tribal membership, can be constrained by treaties or other laws. In this case, through Article 9 of the Treaty of 1866, Congress has constrained the nation's authority to determine tribal membership."
Oral arguments are scheduled for April 28 before a Washington D.C. federal judge.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.