Freedmen Fight For Membership Far From Over

Tuesday, March 27th 2007, 10:46 am
By: News On 6

The fight over descendants of former slaves being members of the Cherokee Nation is far from over. The debate is drawing national attention after tribal members voted to revoke the membership of more than 2,000 Freedmen descendants. The News On 6’s Heather Lewin reports members of the Oklahoma Black Caucus blasted Cherokee Chief Chad Smith, saying the effort to oust Freedmen descendants is all about money and to exclude them based on blood content ignores historical fact.

“Those folks who were in the tribe, who were formerly slaves, married and had children and descendants, as much as anyone else shared Cherokee and Creek blood," said Representative Jabar Schumate.

Speakers said they can trace their lineage, but claim they aren't on the Dawes rolls because blacks were automatically put on a separate list that didn't include blood percentage. Smith says the tribe is deeply saddened by accusations of racism. Freedmen descendents who can point to an ancestor on the Dawes rolls will retain their membership.

“Cherokees want to be like every other tribe,” said Smith. “If you want to be a member of this Indian tribe, you should have some Indian blood."

Historically, even without a blood link, the freed slaves and their descendants enjoyed full membership and benefits in the tribe, even voting and holding elected office. Attorneys for the Freedmen descendants say these rights are protected by a treaty dating back to 1866, one that promised future descendants of the Cherokee's former slaves would be entitled to membership.

“If the Cherokee Nation does not live up to its treaty, government to government with the United States, we plan to use every asset that we have to make sure that their funding does not continue from the federal government," said Schumate.

Cherokee leaders say they are a sovereign nation and have the right to determine their own membership requirements, but because that treaty is an agreement between the tribe and the U.S., attorneys say the federal government must recognize any changes the tribe makes to its constitution. That issue is currently being fought in federal district court.

In the meantime, letters are being sent out explaining to Freedmen descendants they are no longer members of the tribe. Freedmen attorneys say when this issue came up in the Seminole Nation, the U.S. withheld funding until the tribe acknowledged Freedmen membership.

Related stories:

3/21/2006 Creek Nation Tribal Court Issues Ruling On Freedmen

4/27/2006 Cherokee Nation Freedmen Fighting To Remain Part Of The Tribe

8/10/2006 Creek Freedmen Fight To Become Full Members

10/10/2006 Cherokee Freedmen To Challenge Special Election

11/16/2006 Cherokee Nation Tribal Court Slates Trial On Blood Requirement Issue

12/20/06 - Federal Court Sides With Freedmen

12/29/2006 Cherokee Chief Delays Special Election To March 3

12/31/2006 Cherokees Set Vote On Freedmen Issue

2/22/2007 Judge Keeps Special Election On Track

3/2/2007 Cherokee Nation Special Election

3/4/2007 Cherokee Freedmen Ready For Court Battle

3/6/2007 Freedmen Challenge Special Election

3/13/2007 Black Congressional Leaders Question Legality Of Cherokee Vote

3/24/2007 Cherokee Freedmen Descendants Schedule Protest