Kenneth Cooper: Cherokee Freedmen awaiting new era

"Like other descendants of Cherokee Freedmen, ancestors who were once the tribe's slaves, I am cheered that longtime Chief Chad Smith lost the recent election. Smith has crusaded against the treaty-guaranteed rights of freedmen descendants to be citizens of the Cherokee Nation, eligible to vote in tribal elections and receive any health, housing and other benefits that status confers.

Chief-elect Bill John Baker, who has served in the tribal congress, looks to be fairer. He has demurred from directly endorsing freedmen's rights but has stated that he will abide by whatever the court of last jurisdiction decides. He knows and we know that will be a federal court, which is likely to uphold the 1866 treaty that insisted freedmen and their descendants "shall have all the rights of native Cherokee." A U.S. District Court in Washington has already found that the treaty remains in effect.

"It's time for the healing to begin," Baker told Oklahoma's Tahlequah Daily Press, when certified election results were released showing him winning 54 percent to 46 percent over Smith, who had been principal chief for a dozen years. The candidates were separated by 1,600 votes. Baker was sworn in as principal chief on Oct. 19."

Get the Story:
Kenneth J. Cooper: Will Cherokee Freedmen Gain Tribal Rights? (The Root 10/26)

Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Decisions:
Vann v. Salazar (October 11, 2011)
Cherokee Nation Registrar v. Nash (August 22, 2011)

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