May 04, 2009

Investigate tribes for "oppression"?

Dems call for DOJ probe of Indian tribesA civil rights controversy surrounding several Indian tribes could pit President Obama against some of Capitol Hill’s most prominent liberals and black lawmakers.

Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), John Lewis (D-Ga.) and others asked Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter dated last Thursday to initiate a “full-scale investigation” of five Indian tribes for allegedly abusing the rights of the Freedmen: African-Americans descended from freed slaves once owned by Indians.

Also signing onto the letter were other senior lawmakers from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), including Reps. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), Shelia Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the caucus’s chairwoman.

“Over forty years after enactment of the landmark Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, there is a place in the United States that African Americans cannot vote or receive federal benefits as a matter of law,” the letter states. “The victims of this racial oppression are known as freedmen, who are descendants of African slaves owned by Indians. They are called freedmen, but they are anything but free.”

The call for an aggressive investigation of the tribes by Congress could force Obama to contradict a position he took on the campaign trail last year.

In the spring of 2008, the then-Illinois senator helped solidify his Native American support by arguing against Washington intervening in a dispute involving a group of Freedmen and the leaders of the Cherokee Nation. The Freedmen had been expelled from the tribe after it amended its constitution in March 2007.
Comment:  The letter obscures the facts of the case. A more accurate statement would go something like this: "Many African Americans of Cherokee descent can no longer vote or receive benefits because they're no longer citizens of the Cherokee Nation."

The letter may or may not accurately state the motivation behind the facts--that it's based on racial "oppression." That remains to be determined.

Obama's position was that the courts should decide. That still seems to be the best remedy. Until then, I don't think a DOJ investigation is justified.

For more on Obama's position, see Obama Tackles Tough Issues and Obama Opposes Punishing Cherokees. For more on the underlying issues, see Cherokee PR or Propaganda and Blacks vs. Cherokees.

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