Opinions Differ On Cherokee Court's Freedman Decision


Tuesday, August 23rd 2011, 5:34 pm
By: News On 6


Craig Day, News On 6

TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma -- A Cherokee Supreme court ruling means 2,800 Freedman are off the tribal rolls immediately.

The Cherokees have been involved in a tribal tug of war over citizenship for descendants of slaves once held by tribal members. 

In the debate over Freedman and Cherokee citizenship, there are plenty of thoughts on each side.

Some like tough citizenship requirements.

"A person ought to have at least one member of the family to be tribal you know," said David Adams, Tribal Member.

Others favor the freedmen.

"That's my legal right. It's my humane right. It's more of a human rights issue than anything else," said Kenneth Payton, Freedmen.

Many don't want any part of the controversy.

"I don't know, I don't get involved in it. Just try to stay out of it," said Mark Holloway, Tribal Member.

But the opinion with the most weight came from the Cherokee Supreme Court, which basically ruled tribal citizenship ends immediately for 2,800 Freedmen, or descendants of slaves once held by tribal members.

Read the Cherokee Court's 10 Page Ruling

It's upsetting to many Freedmen.

"I think that is horrible, I think it's deplorable, I think it is unjust. And a travesty of justice," Payton said.

The tribal justices upheld a 2007 voter approved constitutional amendment requiring all of the nation's citizens to have at least one ancestor on the Dawes rolls.

That reversed a lower courts' ruling that the amendment violated an 1866 treaty giving Freedman and their descendant's membership.

"If they have proof I'm for it, if they don't have proof then no," said Sonya Edwards, Tribal Member

The 1866 treaty said the Freedmen and their descendants have all the rights of native Cherokees. But the tribal high court says the Freedmen were never afforded citizenship in the tribe by the treaty.

"I'm very upset. I am disappointed that the law and the treaty were not followed," said Marilyn Vann, Freedmen.

Any Freedman that can trace lineage back to the Dawes Rolls would retain tribal citizenship.

A case involving the tribe and the former slaves' descendants is still pending in federal court in Washington D.C

8/22/2011 Related Story: Cherokee Nation Kicks Out Nearly 3,000 Members