Kevin James: Jim Crow still alive in Indian Country
"On June 18 the U.S. Senate passed Resolution 26, which apologized “for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans” but precluded reparations. Rather than pass a disclaimer disguised as an apology for slavery, the U.S. Senate should instead end Congress’ disparate treatment of Native American Freedmen: Jim Crow and the ‘one-drop’ rule are still alive and well in Indian Country.

President Obama’s hands-off attitude only added to more than 100 years of discrimination against Freedmen. During his presidential campaign, he opposed the Black Congressional Caucus’ attempt to withhold funding from the Cherokee Nation after they disenfranchised Cherokee Freedmen. He believed the courts were the better forum for deciding the rights of Cherokee Freedmen, not Congress. More recently, several Caucus members called on Attorney General Holder to investigate the Five Civilized Tribes’ racial discrimination against Freedmen. Both sides are missing the point, that in 1896 Congress documented Indian ancestry on the Dawes Rolls in a racially discriminatory manner. The issue is neither one of blood quantum nor sovereignty, but Congress’ duty to remedy the lasting harms they caused by violating Equal Protection.

The Dawes Rolls created a racial hierarchy between Native American Freedmen and “by-bloods” by placing Freedmen at the bottom of the totem pole. Used for identifying land allotment eligibility under the Dawes Allotment Act, the Rolls were established consistent with the prevalent “one-drop” rule of the era. Just prior to Final Roll documentation, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the ‘one drop’ rule in 1896. Homer Plessy, who from all appearances was white, was arrested for sitting in the segregated “whites only” train section in Louisiana after identifying himself as having African ancestry. Initiated as a test case, the Court ruled he had to sit in the car designated for blacks, even though he only had 1/8th African ancestry.

The Rolls discriminated against Native Americans with African ancestry by merely identifying them as Freedmen, without bothering to identify their Indian ancestry. Native Americans with Caucasian ancestry were identified by blood quantum to 1/32nd degree of “Indian by Blood.” This ‘paper-bag’ test for Native American identity reinforced the stigmatic badge of slavery against persons with African Ancestry. Freedmen challenged their segregation from ‘Indians by Blood,’ but in 1906 Congress barred the transfer of Freedmen to the ‘by-Blood’ rolls. Thus began a century of Freedmen litigation seeking equality with ‘Indians-by-Blood,’ who were unjustifiably granted the advantage of using the Dawes Rolls for documenting lineage."

Get the Story:
Kevin James: Skip the Apologies and Pass the Justice: End Jim Crow in Indian Country (October 2009)

Related Stories:
Ron Daniels: Congressman turns back on Freedmen (09/22)
Cherokee chief defends exclusion of Freedmen (9/11)
Federal Bar Association set for annual meeting (9/9)
Opinion: Cowards and the Cherokee Freedmen (08/21)
Cherokee Nation court hears Freedmen dispute (7/27)
Cole opposes latest Cherokee Freedmen bill (6/16)
Cherokee Freedmen bill introduced in House (6/15)
Opinion: Treaties and the Five Civilized Tribes
Freedmen protest honoring of Cherokee Nation chief (6/5)
Editorial: 'Shameful' posturing on Freedmen issue (5/7)
Boren and Cole oppose Freedmen investigation (5/6)
African-American lawmakers seek Freedmen probe (5/5)
Cherokee Nation seeks to end Freedmen dispute (2/4)