Cherokee Nation Expels Native Citizens with African Ancestry

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Native American Cherokees voted to expel descendants of black slaves from their tribe nation in a special election that has prompted charges of racism, according to returns made public early Sunday.

But a vote of 77 percent to 23 percent, the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma adopted Saturday an amendment to their constitution that strips membership from so-called “Freedmen,” those descended from slaves once owned by Cherokees, blacks who were married to Cherokees and children of mixed-race families.

“The Cherokee people exercised the most basic democratic right, the right to vote,” Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, said in a statement. “Their voice is clear as to who should be citizens of the Cherokee Nation. No one else has the right to make that determination.”

However, opponents of the amendment say it was a racist project designed to deny the distribution of US government funds and tribal revenue to those with African-American heritage, US media reported.

“This is a sad chapter in Cherokee history,” Taylor Keen, a Cherokee tribal council member who opposes the amendment, told the New York Times.

“But this is not my Cherokee Nation. My Cherokee Nation is one that honors all parts of her past.”

Advocates of changing the 141-year-old treaty rules defining who is a Cherokee say the tribal nation has a sovereign right to decide citizenship and that other tribes base membership on blood lines.

The Cherokee Nation, which ranks as the second-largest tribe behind the Navajo, has some 250,000 to 270,000 members and is growing rapidly. Members are entitled to benefits from the US federal government and tribal services, including medical and housing aid and scholarships.

Cherokees, along with several other tribes, held black slaves and allied themselves with the Confederacy during the US civil war. After the war, the federal government in an 1866 treaty ordered the slaves freed.

In 1983, the Cherokee Nation expelled many descendants of slaves as members but a Cherokee tribunal ruled last year that the Freedmen were fully-fledged citizens with voting rights. That court decision prompted Saturday’s special vote.

Native American tribes recognized by the United States government have the right to self-determination and authority similar to US states.

Election results will remain unofficial until certified by the Cherokee Nation Election Commission, but officials said percentages were not expected to change significantly.

3 thoughts on “Cherokee Nation Expels Native Citizens with African Ancestry

  1. cina

    Why not the cherokees hell our own people have rejected us the caucasin have always rejected us to this day3-04-07 and is still rejecting african americans. There is just one thing if african americans weren’t so divided they would know that they are the only true americans because we originated in the country and are a new race of people in the world. we are the true American Natives not native americans who have some where they can trace back to we are multiracial an brought our own foods of our culture. Why do you reject us just curious is it because we talk too much and are cowards if thats it then i reject us too.

  2. hflanagan

    How does this time of misinformation get in print as the truth? It’s frustrating to ready and study Cherokee history, and then see the media spin so many things that it makes me dizzy. I am not attacking you, cause I know you aren’t the author.

    The vote of the Cherokee Nation did not expel Freedmen descendents from the tribe so simply: it defined its membership as being available only to those people who have a By Blood ancestor listed on the Dawes rolls. The Final Dawes rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes was completed in 1907 by the U.S. Government. It listed each of the tribes in a separate section, and further broke down each tribe into 3 groups- By Blood, Freedmen, and Intermarried Whites. Freedmen and intermarried whites who lived back in 1907 were placed on the By Blood rolls if they could prove their Indian ancestry. If they could not, they were not placed on the By Blood rolls. The vote of the Cherokee Nation was to clarify tribal membership as being extended only to those who could trace their lineage to an ancestor on the By Blood rolls. This, in effect, disenrolled non-Indian Freedmen AND intermarried whites descendents, all of whom never had citizenship prior to 2006 anyway.

    Further, it should be noted that all of the other five civilized tribes determine their citizenship in EXACTLY this way…ability to prove ancestry to a blood relative on the by blood rolls. The Cherokee do not even extend membership to the adopted children of Cherokees- unless the child’s BIOLOGICAL parents can trace their lineage to a By Blood ancestor listed in the Dawes rolls.

    To claim that the Cherokee are racist is very hurtful and TOTALLY inaccurate. The Cherokee were a tribal people who did not practice chattel slavery– this concept was introduced to them and encouraged by the U.S. government whenever they gave the Cherokees hoes, plows, and seeds, and tried to push them away from their communal horticultural subsistence and toward individual farming subsistence. At it’s peak in 1861, only 2% of the Cherokee owned even 1 slave, and these Cherokee were mainly the wealthy and mixed race people who were the most acculturated. The Cherokee people, those who did and not own slaves, lent strong support to the Benevolent Aid Society, whose objective was to free slaves and help them return to their native countries in Africa.

    Also, this article states that the Cherokee sided with the South in the Civil War, but does not say why, nor does it point out that 70% of Cherokee men fought for the Union in the Civil War. The Cherokee signed on to with the South only after the South had them completely surrounded and cornered and offered their only option for survival was to join the Confederacy. This bond was broken as soon as possible, and more Cherokee men died fighting alongside the Union than ever joined the South.

    It’s disappointing that these things are not appearing in print more. I guess it’s just an easier and jucier story to cry, “racism.”

  3. Maximilian Forte

    I am not unsympathetic to your point of view, and certainly I think that people should know all the points you have raised. Much of what you read is what was circulated by the media and those opposed to the particular group governing the Cherokee Nation. That does not mean it is correct, or the whole story. I have since read many good counter-arguments, including yours now, and I am very happy to be able to say that I am publishing such a piece for a book that I am currently editing, titled _Who Is An Indian_. It will be published, and released some time next year, by the University of Toronto Press. The scholar writing the chapter is herself Cherokee and member of the tribal council if I recall–her name is Julia Coates.

    Many thanks for posting this detailed reply in the meantime, it’s good to signal to readers that there is a real debate here.

Comments are closed