Opinion: Racism, segregation and sovereignty
"Tribal life for Black Indians can be difficult. Mixed-blood Indians have been told to ''go back to Africa.'' Tribal meetings escalate to roaring sessions of racist rhetoric, with animal noises, stomping feet and cow calls for ''blacks to get the hell out.'' Blatant proponents of exclusion have no shame in publicly declaring, ''We're trying to keep the black people out.''

While such behavior has been shunned since the civil rights era, it thrives in some parts of Indian country. This is sovereignty.

Determining membership in Indian nations forces hard choices. The business of inclusion and exclusion marks a fundamental element of tribal sovereignty. As indigenous people, we exercise autonomy by defining ourselves without the influence of others. This liberty to determine the composition of our nations, however, does not give our governments the same freedom to promote racial exclusion.

Sovereignty has taken on a new meaning in Indian country: the ability to do what we want, when we want, and with whom. In Oklahoma, this display of political freedom incites questionable demonstrations of pre-civil rights Southern segregation. In their efforts to streamline membership rolls, tribal leaders target Indians with black ancestry as unworthy heirs to an indigenous legacy. Freedmen, as the disenfranchised are known, cannot be ''Indian'' because they have no blood quantum.

This dialectic of yes/no, black/Indian draws a familiar picture: on one side sits a group of racially ambiguous people who have been kicked out of their tribe. On the other side, tribal leaders and supporters stand as gatekeepers of Indian authenticity. The ultimate determination of inclusion comes not from people, but from paper. Very ancient paper."

Get the Story:
Kevin Noble Maillard: Black and red (Indian Country Today 5/18)

Cherokee Nation Documents:
Cherokee Nation's Attorney General Statement (May 14, 2007) | Temporary Court Order And Injuction (May 14, 2007)

Federal Court Briefs:
Motion for Preliminary Injunction (May 8, 2007) | Memorandum in Support (May 8, 2007)

BIA Letter:
Carl Artman to Cherokee Chief Chad Smith (March 28, 2007)

Sovereign Immunity Court Decision:
Vann v. Kempthorne (December 19, 2006)

Jim Cason Letter:
Cherokee Nation Constitution (August 30, 2006)

Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal Decision in Freedmen Case:
Allen v. Cherokee Nation (March 7, 2006)

Relevant Links:
Cherokee Nation - http://www.cherokee.org
Freedmen Of The Five Civilized Tribes - http://www.freedmen5tribes.com
Freedmen Conference - http://www.freedmenconference.com

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