Cherokee Nation Holds Juneteenth Celebration Honoring Freedmen

During the Cherokee removal to Oklahoma in the 1830s, an estimated 2,000 black “freedmen,” descendants of slaves owned by the tribe, traveled West with them. Today, their descendants number 15,000 and are full citizens of the Cherokee Nation. Wednesday, in conjunction with the U.S. Federal Juneteenth holiday, the Cherokees marked the day with a celebration on the grounds of the historic Cherokee Nation Supreme Court building in Tahlequah.

Wednesday, June 19th 2024, 6:54 pm



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During the Cherokee removal to Oklahoma in the 1830s, an estimated 2,000 black “freedmen,” descendants of slaves owned by the tribe, traveled West with them. Today, their descendants number 15,000 and are full citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

Wednesday, in conjunction with the U.S. Federal Juneteenth holiday, the Cherokees marked the day with a celebration on the grounds of the historic Cherokee Nation Supreme Court building in Tahlequah. Several dozen black Cherokees spoke of their ancestors who had few rights and who weren’t fully acknowledged until the last 20 years.

"When we admit these things, we grow stronger, not weaker,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr, who in February signed an order to examine how engaged modern freedmen descendants are with the tribe.

Their citizenship was established in the Treaty of 1866.

“Now in the 21st century, equality is the order of the day, so we're celebrating all of the history while trying to do more to achieve true equality and reconciliation,” said Hoskin, who appointed Melissa Payne as liaison to Freedmen descendants. “I do it thinking of my ancestors and what they endured so all of us could be where we are today,” said Payne.

Marilynn Vann was an early advocate for greater equality who is serving on a task force to document and encourage engagement.

“We have Freedmen people serving in different positions, giving their talents to the Nation,” she said, referencing Shella Bowlin, the Cherokee Secretary of State, who was the first Cabinet member of Freedmen descent.

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