Saturday, May 24, 2014

Judge Rules That Cherokee Freedmen Can Sue for Treaty Rights

"Applying the precedents that permit suits against government officials in their capacities, we conclude that this suit may proceed against the principal chief in his official capacity, without the Cherokee Nation itself as a party," the court wrote."

These words give a green light signal to the descendants of the slaves held in bondage by Cherokees, that they may continue to pursue their treaty rights in court. This particular case going back several years had been placed by the Cherokee Nation against several Freedmen descendants to halt their efforts to maintain their status as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

Their parents, grandparents and gr. grandparents were citizens, and for many, their great grandparents were at one time enslaved by Cherokees. For decades the former slaves and their descendants, lived, voted, worked and abided by the laws of the Cherokee Nation. Some of them also served on the tribal council. And until the late 1970s they were Cherokees by right of their birth. At that time, it was decided that a majority of these former slaves were not "Indian", although it was never said that they were not Cherokee. 

"Indian" became the operative word, without using the word race. The concern, it was said was about blood ties to the tribe, but examining the roll that the tribe uses---the Dawes Roll, the Freedmen never had their blood recorded, only their names---regardless of whether or not their mother or father was Indian---they were told that they were Black and that their blood did not count. And many had been enslaved by the leaders of the tribe.

Enrollment card of Benjamin Vann, former slave of Clem Vann

And in the 1970s a mere decade after America passed the landmark Civil Right Act and the country was finally on the road to making many improvements for all people,  the tribe sought to purge itself of a portion of the population that was distinguished by race. Though the official argument is that "this is not about race" the distinguishing factor of Freedmen being categorized as Freedmen is race. Their being "Indian" is always addressed, although their being Cherokee is not for they are Cherokee. 

So, this ruling now allows the Freedmen descendants to continue to pursue their rights in court. This is what is now being challenged. If the final judgement from the US Court of Appeals rules in their favor then Freedmen can continue to enroll in the nation of their birth.

To understand the current case pending, information can be gleaned in an article shared by the Huffington Post. in 2012 (See article HERE)

Descendants from the other former slave holding tribes (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) are also paying close attention to the case and will also be following the anticipated ruling still to come, and determining how it may apply to their own situation where they too have been barred from enrollment.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is so ironic because some friends and I were just talking about this topic this morning. They live in Texas and I in Oklahoma. We are all descendants of Freedmen.