This bitter dispute dates to the treaties of 1866, when the Cherokee, Seminole and Creek agreed to admit their former slaves as tribal members in return for recognition as sovereign nations. The tribes fought black membership from the start—even though many of the former slaves were products of mixed black and Indian marriages.
The federal courts repeatedly upheld the treaties. But the federal government fanned the flames when a government commission set out in the 1890s to create an authoritative roll of tribal membership. Instead of placing everyone on a single roll, it made two lists. The so-called blood list contained nonblack Cherokees, listed with their percentage of Indian ancestry. The freedmen’s list included the names of any black members, even those with significant Cherokee ancestry.