April 27, 2007

Key points on the Freedmen

Blood, race and sovereignty in Cherokee Freedmen dispute

Treaty rights vs. sovereign rights:Leaders of the Cherokee Nation responded that the vote was about their inherent ability to define their identity.

Speakers at the Federal Bar Association's Indian law conference didn't necessarily disagree with that contention at a panel on the dispute. But they said the attempt to shift the debate to one of sovereignty ignores some key issues, including an 1866 treaty at the heart of the dispute, as well as racial discrimination.

"Cherokee Nation leaders are making statements that they can break the treaty any time they want to," said Marilyn Vann, the president of the Descendants of the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes and the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenges how African descendants have been treated by the tribe.

"I would be alarmed by that," added Vann, who noted that the tribe has cited the treaty to defend its rights in other cases. "If a tribe can break the agreement, the fed government can break the agreement."
Defining membership by race:Carla Pratt, a professor at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law, charged that the removal of the Freedmen really was about race. Traditional notions of tribal citizenship weren't always based on blood quantum, she told attendees of the conference.

"Do we really honor ancestors when we refuse to recognize their descendants?" she said. "I really hopes tribes can get away from this notion of blood as the essence of Indian identity."

No comments: