Cherokees and other tribes brought slaves with them, when the federal government forced them to leave the Southeast and march to the Indian Territory that would become Oklahoma. After the tribe backed the losing side in the Civil War, the government demanded Cherokees free slaves and make them citizens of the Cherokee Nation.
The people, dubbed freedmen, embraced citizenship. They voted in tribal elections and ran for office. They served on the tribal council. They started businesses and became teachers in schools for freedmen children.
"Do you want non-Indians...using your Health Care Dollars?" warned an e-mail circulated last summer by backers of a vote on citizenship. "...getting your Cherokee Nation scholarship dollars?...making your Housing wait list longer?...being made Indians?"
Is it blood?
While some freedmen descendants surely have Indian blood, the majority probably don't, says Daniel Littlefield Jr. of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and author of a book, "The Cherokee Freedmen."
But, Littlefield says, blood should not matter.
Cherokees--who also count Shawnee and Delaware Indians and adopted whites as citizens--continued adopting blacks as citizens well after a treaty required it, making it hard to argue they were unwanted, he says. Once free to participate, there is ample evidence that black freedmen did just that.
Writerfella here --
That is a quirk that all of the Five Civilized Tribes evinced, the inclusion and/or adoption of non-Native people to swell their ranks so they would receive larger portions of the yearly Congressional appropriations for Native government. BUT -- now that those tribes have become 'Casino Indians' and have huge amounts of income, they have begun to examine whether the inductees still have value for their tribes. And the general consensus (other than the Chickasaws) is that the inductees have served their purpose and thus should be expunged. Fortunately, the inductees are not willing to be kicked off the tribal rolls, especially since casino tribes more or less are required to distribute per capita any and all profits from casino operation among the the tribal memberships. THAT is the reason those tribes (again, not including the Chickasaws) now wish to divest themselves of non-Native members, as each tribal member who actually has Native blood would see their potential shares thus diminished. They can't have it both ways, as they now are finding out. The rest of Oklahoma's Native tribes are sitting back and watching with great amusement, as the Five Civilized Tribes always have operated as if they were the only Native tribes in Oklahoma. writerfella wishes he had the popcorn concession at this time...
Cherokees don't receive any per capita from casino operations; it funds the government, so the benefits are indirect. and I'm not sure the Cherokee really need the inductees to swell their ranks, since they don't have a blood quantum limit like the other tribes. I've been blogging about the Freedman issue for awhile and I'm very bothered by the rampant (and blatant) fraud in the petition drive for the special election to kick the Freedmen out (detailed extensively in Justice Stacy Leeds dissenting opinion in the case before the Cherokee Supreme Court). I'm also worried that this will ultimate harm tribal sovereignty, since a federal judge has ruled that historical and current discrimination by the tribe against the Freedmen allows them to sue in federal court. I think the only viable compromise is a constitutional amendment to allow those Freedman descendants who have ancestors on the Dawes Roll to enroll if they can prove Indian blood by secondary sources (other rolls, the Cherokee census, etc.). It's not a perfect solution, of course, but the current enrollment system (where the question "who is a Cherokee?" depends solely on whether or not your great-great-grandfather decided to sign the Dawes Roll) isn't exactly equitable, either.
Your compromise solution sounds good to me, Patrick.
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