The Cherokee Nation Heads To The Polls

Friday, June 22nd 2007, 9:34 pm
By: News On 6

The polls open Saturday morning for the Cherokee Nation election. It comes just days after a California congresswoman introduced legislation that would cut off federal money to the tribe. The News On 6’s Heather Lewin reports although the tribe says none of the issues on this ballot involve the recent debate over the membership of the Freedmen, descendants of freed Cherokee slaves, the latest court decision does allow those whose citizenship is in question to vote, at least for now.

California Congresswoman Diane Watson is demanding that the federal government stop giving money to the Cherokee Nation until the Cherokee Freedmen are allowed full citizenship, including benefits, and the right to vote.

The issue boils down to two questions: Do the Cherokees have the right to require Indian blood for membership in their tribe? And does a post-Civil War treaty guarantee tribal citizenship of the Freedmen, and their descendants, regardless of whether they're considered Native American?

Cherokee officials say the entire debate has been misconstrued on a national level as an attempt to bar African-Americans from the tribe.

Chief Chad Smith says quote, "It's clear that the real purpose of this bill is for a California legislator to try to punish the Cherokee Nation for so-called wrongs that are based purely on misinformation; the Cherokee Nation's citizenship law remains the most inclusive of any Indian tribe, requiring only one Indian ancestor on our base roll for citizenship."

Smith says that roll, one of the Dawes lists of people with Indian blood, includes more than 1,500 Freedmen who are citizens because they are considered part Native American. But at the time of the Dawes rolls many African-Americans were automatically categorized on another list, one that stated they didn't have Indian blood. It is the people of any race who trace their lineage to this non-blood list the tribe says are not citizens.

But the attorney for the Freedmen descendants says the issue isn't about blood at all. He says many of the people in question are Cherokee, even though they can't prove blood content. He says they are, and always have been, citizens because of an agreement between the tribe and the federal government.

The attorney says quote, “We agree with the principle that tribes can determine membership, but there's an exception to that, there's a treaty. These people were granted status in the Cherokee tribe under a treaty and no tribal government has the right to sever those rights."

On Friday the Cherokee Nation received a letter from the federal government saying their funding will not be cut over this issue, but that could change if congress passed the legislation.

Watch the video: Freedmen Membership Debate Continues

To read a copy of the proposed bill, click here.

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