Tim Giago: CBC goes after Cherokee Nation

The Congressional Black Caucus, in attacking the sovereign status of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is placing in question and in jeopardy, the sovereign status of all Indian nations. At least that is the conclusion drawn by many tribal leaders across America.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the CBC, of which Presidential Candidate Barack Obama is member, demanded that he support their efforts to deny federal funding to the Cherokee Nation. The letter reads:
When H. R. 2786, the Native American Housing and Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act of 2007, was considered and passed the House Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and others insisted that the bill include a provision that would prevent the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma from receiving any benefits or funding under the bill until the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is in full compliance with the Treaty of 1866 and recognizes all Cherokee Freedman and their descendants as tribal citizens.

We understand that the Senate may be considering a version of this bill that does not include these critically important requirements. We are writing to advise you that the members of the CBC will not support, and will actively oppose, passage of a NAHASDA bill that does not include this limitation. We must send the unequivocal message to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma that failure to provide full citizenship rights to the Cherokee Freedmen will have severe consequences.

This is probably the first time in history that a Congressional Black Caucus, or any other Black organization for that matter, has severely threatened not only the sovereign status of an Indian nation, but also the withholding of funds that could cause widespread damage to the citizens of an Indian nation.

The people of the Cherokee Nation exercised their democratic rights when 70 percent of them voted to extinguish the tribal citizenship to the Cherokee Freedmen. The Freedmen are former Black slaves that became a part of the Cherokee Nation under the provisions of the Treaty of 1866.

The bill was introduced by Representative Diane Watson (D-CA). Tribal leaders across America feel that this bill could threaten Indian housing nationwide. They also believe that this action by the Congressional Black Caucus could set a precedent where any Indian legislation could be threatened by any special interest group.

In a memo sent out by Indian activist Ron Andrade it was noted that Obama is also a member of the CBC. “Someone needs to ask him how he can reconcile his support of the Congressional Black Caucus and his rhetoric about supporting the sovereign status of tribal governments,” Andrade wrote.

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina met on Wednesday of last week in a joint tribal council meeting. At the meeting they denounced legislation that would cut federal funds to the Cherokee Nation unless the Freedmen are restored to citizenship. The Eastern Band of Cherokee would not be affected by the legislation.

A joint resolution issued after the meeting reads, “This alarming, inappropriate and unacceptable overreach could set a precedent that undermines the sovereign tribal governments throughout Indian country. These proposed legislative actions threaten to turn back the clock on hard-won rights and to cease a nation’s right to exist.”

It should be noted that California is one of the worst states in the Union where tribes are systematically removing and denying citizenship to members. Rep. Watson represents a voting district in that state. What has she done about this problem in her own district? And what about the rest of the Congressional Black Caucus? Are they not concerned that Indian people are often removed from tribes in California without even a democratic vote? Or will they only speak up when Black Americans are involved?

And the final question: What gives the Congressional Black Caucus the right to interfere in the internal affairs of an independent sovereign Indian nation?

These are all questions that every Native American leader and citizens should be asking every member of the CBC including presidential candidate Barack Obama who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

And isn’t ironic that the very word “Caucus” is derived from the Algonquin Indian language and meant, “A group of people united to promote an agreed –upon cause.”

When the CBC begins to use its power to go after some of the tribes of California for ejecting and denying citizenship to their members then, and only then, will their actions against the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma have the appearance of justice or otherwise their objectivity will always be in question to the sovereign people of the Indian nations.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He can be reached at najournalist@msn.com.

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