Freedman Appointed To Government Position For First Time In Cherokee Nation History

Thursday, September 16th 2021, 6:00 pm
By: Amelia Mugavero

TULSA, Oklahoma -

A Cherokee citizen is making history this week. Marilyn Vann was appointed to the tribe's Enivronmental Protection Commission. She's the first descendant of Cherokee Freedmen, or slaves once owned by tribal members, to hold a key leadership role. 

"I was very pleased that my talents my abilities that they were going to be recognized and used in my nation," said Vann. 

Vann said she comes from a poor family, but that didn't stop her from graduating first in her class at the University of Oklahoma and becoming an engineer.

"I worked for Exxon mobile for a couple years and then I worked for the federal government, retiring as an engineering team leader in 2014," Vann said.

Vann said she's also a Freedman descendant and the president of Freedman descendants of the Five Tribes Association.

The freedmen were former slaves owned by Cherokee Citizens and later became citizens. But, in 2006, the Cherokee Nation denied Freedmen rights as tribal citizens. Vann was a litigant on two lawsuits against that action, which saw the tribe return citizenship to all Cherokee Freedmen. 

"To me, it’s taking a long time to go from being a litigant to becoming a commissioner on a tribal agency," said Vann.

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Junior said Vann is the first Freedman descendant to have a Cherokee leadership role.

“Marilyn Vann has been active in the Cherokee Freedmen community, but she’s actually an engineer by trade with a long record of government service. [She's] perfect for the important position of overseeing our environmental protection. So, I’m proud of her, she's well qualified trail blazer in every regard," Hoskin explained. 

Vann said she hopes to pave the way for more Freedmen to follow her lead.

"I think it gives people hope, and I think people are pleased to see the Cherokee nation is stepping up to the treaty obligations," Vann added. 

Vann said one of her priorities on the commission will be decrease pollution across Green Country.