Opinion: Playing the nation card over Freedmen
"Earlier this year, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma voted to disenfranchise descendants of black slaves who were made full citizens of the nation in the 1866 Treaty. The official reason for this has been ''blood,'' although in fact the issue has always been about texts.

Led by Principal Chief Chad Smith, the anti-freedmen contingent has demanded that citizenship be granted on the basis of descent from an Indian ancestor listed on the 1906 Dawes Roll created during the allotment era. Since freedmen were enrolled separately, the argument goes, they can be stripped of citizenship because they are not ''Cherokee by blood.''

In a March 2007 commentary, Smith wrote, ''The Dawes Roll is the base roll of 1906 and if you had Indian blood, you are listed as an Indian.'' Accusing his critics of playing a ''race card,'' Smith asked why the freedmen would ''play victim rather than explaining to the Cherokee people why these descendants should be citizens of the Cherokee Nation.''

Well, the explanation all along has been that other important text: the 1866 Treaty, Article 9 of which plainly states, ''all freedmen ... and their descendants shall have all the rights of native Cherokees.'' When is a descendant no longer a descendant?

Quid pro quo, the United States has responded with the threat of what might be called a ''temporary termination.'' A bill proposed by Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., and supported by a dependable Indian ally, the Congressional Black Caucus, House Bill 2824 threatens to discontinue relations with Cherokee Nation, including ''all financial obligations'' and the ''authority to conduct gaming,'' until the freedmen are restored to ''full tribal citizenship.''

This has led some to cry paternalism, but in fact H.R. 2824 conceives of the American/Cherokee political relationship in a remarkably nation-to-nation manner. Watson didn't play a race card. She played a nation card."

Get the Story:
Scott Richard Lyons: Cherokee by text (Indian Country Today 10/19)

Cherokee-Related Legislation:
H.R.2786 | H.R.2895 | H.R.2824 | H.R.3002

BIA Letters:
August 9, 2007 | July 11, 2007 | June 22, 2007 | May 21, 2007 | March 28, 2007 | August 30, 2006

Sovereign Immunity Court Decision:
Vann v. Kempthorne (December 19, 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
Congressional Black Caucus, Annual Leadership Conference - http://www.alc2007.com

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