September 15, 2011

US threatens Cherokees over Freedmen

As some of us predicted, the federal government isn't taking the Cherokee expulsion of the black Freedmen lying down.

Cherokee Nation runs into constitutional hot water over voting ban

By David UsborneThe Nation had sent letters to its so-called freedmen members, who are descended from slaves owned by Cherokees up until the end of the Civil War, informing them that they were being stripped of tribal status. The federal government quickly warned the action was illegal and would be met with sanctions.

The clash came to a head this week when the Nation was admonished in a letter from the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Larry EchoHawk.

"I urge you to consider carefully the Nation's next steps in proceeding with an election that does not comply with federal law," he wrote. "The department will not recognise any action taken by the Nation that is inconsistent with these principles and does not accord its freedmen members full rights of citizenship."

Mr EchoHawk said the elections, on 24 September, would go unrecognised by Washington unless the freedmen were reinstated and allowed to participate. Already $30 million (£19m) in federal housing funds bound for the Cherokee Nation have been frozen. The government says the Nation is in violation of an 1866 treaty it signed with the federal government that guaranteed full tribal status to the former slaves.
Cherokee tribe retreats from effort to oust some members

By Steve OlafsonThe Cherokee Indian tribe on Wednesday retreated from a plan to banish 2,800 African Americans from its citizenship ranks after the federal government froze some funding to the tribe.

The Cherokee, the second-largest tribe in the country with 300,000 members, asked the tribal Supreme Court to withdraw a ruling that allowed the so-called Freedmen to be removed from membership.

The tribe's legal retreat "is in the best interest of The Nation," said A. Diane Hammons, the Cherokee attorney general, in a one-page court filing.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development withheld a $33 million disbursement and the Bureau of Indian Affairs said it would not recognize results of an upcoming election for tribal principal chief because of the membership issue.
Comment:  An editorial in the Muskogee Phoenix had a great response to the US pressure tactics:The U.S. schooling tribes on terms of treaties is a lot like Michael Vick holding classes for PETA on how to care for puppies.This led me to write: If the US can withhold federal funds for a treaty violation, can a tribe withhold the right to travel on its roads or through its air space? This could be a fascinating new area of Indian law.

My colleagues said no, to which I responded: If one side can do it, so can the other!

But seriously...most Natives I know favor the Freedmen side of the issue. But they certainly don't like the feds' heavy-handed violation of Cherokee sovereignty. As the Vick comment indicates, how ironic is it for the US to be talking about upholding treaties?

The Freedmen issue is a tough one with two compelling arguments: racial equality vs. tribal sovereignty. I suspect people favor the equality argument because they believe racism is motivating the Freedmen expulsion. When tribes disenroll people for reasons other than racism, Natives usually support their right to do so.

For more on the Freedmen, see Limbaugh Cheers Freedmen Expulsion and Cherokee Supreme Court Expels Freedmen.

Below:  "Descendants of slaves once owned by the Cherokee demonstrate against the ban."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's a lot simpler, really: If the U.S. supported South Africa in the 80s, and supports Israel today, then they have no right to attack the Cherokee.

But if any of the tribes who still allow Freedmen to be citizens, or who sidestepped this whole damn issue by never owning slaves in the first place, want to talk about it, they're fine to.