Law | Politics

BIA warns Cherokee Nation about disenrollment of Freedmen





The Obama administration is warning the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma that excluding the Freedmen violates an 1866 treaty.

Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk said the Bureau of Indian Affairs never approved a change to the tribe's constitution that disenrolled the Freedmen, who are the descendants of former slaves. He said the tribe's upcoming principal chief election, in which the Freedmen won't be able to vote, won't survive federal review.

"The [Interior] Department's position is, and has been that the 1866 Treaty between the United States and the Cherokee Nation vested Cherokee Freedmen with rights of citizenship in the Nation, including the right of suffrage," Echo Hawk said in a letter to acting Chief Joe Crittenden.

The tribe is set to vote on September 24 in a make-up election between incumbent Chad Smith and challenger Bill John Baker. The Freedmen have asked a federal judge to restore their voting rights.

Judge Henry Kennedy will hold a hearing in the case on September 20 at 2pm in Courtroom 27A - 6th Floor of the federal court in Washington, D.C. Echo Hawk's letter was filed as part of the lawsuit, Vann v. Salazar.

"On September 9, 2011, Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs (AS-IA) Larry Echo Hawk wrote a letter to S. Joe Crittenden, Acting Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, notifying him that the United States Department of the Interior will not recognize any action taken by the Nation that does not accord its Freedmen members full rights of citizenship, including the right of suffrage," government attorneys wrote.

Get the Story:
Bureau of Indian Affairs Says Cherokee Nation's Freedmen Ruling May Violate Law (KFUL-TV 9/13)
Federal agency warns Cherokees on excluding freedmen (The Tulsa World 9/13)
Cherokees, HUD at odds over Freedmen (The Sequoyah County Times 9/12)

Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Decision:
Cherokee Nation Registrar v. Nash (August 22, 2011)

Related Stories:
Lawmakers want HUD to restore funding to Cherokee Nation (9/12)
HUD won't release funds to Cherokee Nation in Freedmen flap (9/8)
Judge sets hearing on Freedmen motion for Cherokee election (9/6)
Freedmen eye lawsuit in federal court over Cherokee election (8/30)
Freedmen seek appeal for loss of Cherokee Nation citizenship (8/29)
Jay Tavare: Divide and conquer -- disenrollment among tribes (8/25)
Turtle Talk: Tribal courts, treaty rights and treaty rights disputes (8/25)
Cherokee Freedmen lose right to vote in upcoming chief election (8/24)
Decision allows Cherokee Nation to remove Freedmen from rolls (8/23)