February 09, 2008

Cherokees break their word

Russell:  Treaties in a world of contested discourseWhat nation largely made up of white people who needed a professional genealogist to find a Cherokee ancestor can credibly claim that black people should lose their citizenship for being insufficiently Indian? It's funny that the same people who defend this racist nonsense will claim that our treaty obligation is void because of manipulation of the treaty process by the victorious United States but their historical fastidiousness does not extend to the practice of segregating black looking people on the freedmen roll without any inquiry into Cherokee blood. In defense of the white people who did that, there was little reason to inquire at the time because persons formerly owned by Cherokees had the same right to allotments as Cherokees and it would have been extraordinarily prescient for any of those folks to understand that in the future location on the Dawes Rolls (rather than the fact of being on the rolls) would be important.

What kind of "nation" lacks a naturalization process, or takes away citizenship for any reason except criminality?

How can the Cherokee Nation take the position that the U.S. cannot abrogate Indian treaties by implication but claim that Cherokees have done so in an election where treaty abrogation was not on the ballot and every time it was brought up tribal officials denied it? Their argument, if I understand it, is that the treaty never uses the word "citizenship." The treaty provision is above, and it is fair to ask what is unclear about "all the rights of native Cherokees"?

What does it matter to Indian country if the Cherokee Nation violates a treaty with the United States? I have already felt the impact, as I can no longer tell my students that Indians have kept their word in the face of perfidy. As Justice Black wrote, "Great nations, like great men, should keep their word." When Cherokees lose that argument, so do all Indians. That's not fair, but that's the fact of American politics.

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