May 05, 2007

The crux of the Freedmen issue

Black Freedmen expelled from Cherokee NationThe Cherokee Nation wrote in their treaty of 1866 that their former slaves had full rights of citizenship, regardless of whether they had any Cherokee blood lineage. In this treaty, they also extended citizenship to the Delaware and Shawnee. The March 3 vote this year to disenroll Freedmen did not affect the Delaware or Shawnee or any adopted--or bought-in--white members. It is clearly discriminatory.

In 1887, the U.S. government imposed a new way of titling land. First Nations could no longer hold land communally, as a tribe. Individual members could hold single lots, but in order to register, they had to sign up on a government roll. Many people feared government persecution if their ethnicity was formally registered and refused to sign up for the program. Those who did register for a share usually ended up selling it to white settlers seeking farm land or oil wealth. Although this provided some badly-needed income for Indians, the loss of land further devastated tribes over subsequent generations.

The Dawes Commission was the government agency charged with enforcing this new allotment system, and in the subsequent two decades, they conducted a census of Native Americans. Dawes commissioners who thought someone “looked Black” did not list that person as having Indian lineage--not even those who named their Indian parent!--but those appearing to be Cherokee mixed with white were listed as Cherokee. The Dawes Commission erased many Black tribe members from the official U.S. rolls, though they had been full Cherokees for decades.

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