Black Congressional Leaders Question Legality Of Cherokee Vote

Tuesday, March 13th 2007, 6:57 pm

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Black leaders in Congress asked the federal government Tuesday to weigh in on the legality of a vote by the Cherokee Nation earlier this month to revoke citizenship from descendants of former tribal slaves.

Saying they were ``shocked and outraged,'' more than two dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus signed a letter to the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs questioning the ``validity, legality, as well as the morality'' of the March 3 vote.

``The black descendant Cherokees can trace their Native American heritage back in many cases for more than a century,'' said Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif. ``They are legally a part of the Cherokee Nation through history, precedent, blood and treaty obligations.''

Watson emphasized that the federal government spends billions of dollars a year on Native American programs, including for the Cherokee.

In the special election, more than 76 percent of those casting ballots voted to amend the tribal constitution to limit citizenship to descendants of ``by blood'' tribe members and remove an estimated 2,800 freedmen descendants.

The vote followed a March 2006 ruling by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court that said an 1866 treaty assured tribal citizenship to freedmen descendants.

Descendants tried to stop the ballot measure in court but were denied. They have vowed to continue fighting.

Cherokee officials have said the vote is a matter of self-government and the tribe's sovereign right to determine its membership. Critics have called it racist.

Mike Miller, a spokesman for the tribe, could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Along with Watson, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., civil rights movement veteran John Lewis, D-Ga., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., were among 26 lawmakers to sign the letter.

They asked for a legal interpretation of the vote and requested possibilities for government recourse.

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