Opinion

Column: Freedmen dispute a sad story for the Cherokee Nation





"Recently I saw a fascinating story in the news: the Cherokee Nation had just voted to expel the descendants of freed slaves from their tribe.

Reading on, I discovered layers of suffering spread across multiple generations. When the Cherokee were expelled from their homelands in the 19th century and forced to resettle in what would become Oklahoma, the richer members of the tribe brought their black slaves with them. This doesn’t quite fit the modern image of the Indian as a New Age guru spouting wisdom about buffalo and rivers, but then again, the myths constructed by guilty white folks to compensate for past sins always disintegrate upon contact with reality.

The story gets a lot more complex. In 1866- having fought on the side of the slave owning Confederacy in the Civil War- the surviving tribe members signed a treaty with the Federal Government, granting their freed slaves equal rights as members of the tribe, and soon after they were recognized in the Cherokee constitution as citizens. Thus there were around 2800 “Cherokee” of African descent in 2007, when they were suddenly expelled as a result of a referendum, a decision which was just upheld by the Cherokee Supreme Court.

At once the black Cherokee lost their identity, access to benefits, and the right to vote in tribal elections. Meanwhile the Cherokee Nation is about to elect its principal chief- and one of the candidates has been campaigning to get the Freedmen kicked out for ten years. Easier to win now, that their votes have disappeared, perhaps…"

Get the Story:
Daniel Kalder: Transmissions from a Lone Star: Cherokees versus African Americans in the 21st century (RIA Novosti [Russian site] 9/23)

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

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