October 06, 2011

Cherokee Nation risks everyone's treaties

In The Treaties in Our Dreams, columnist Steve Russell makes a point about the Cherokee Freedmen case that occurred to me too. Namely, that it's dangerous for an Indian tribe to abrogate one of its own treaties.

Russell notes a particular danger. Courts have ruled that tribes are political entities, not racial entities. But the Cherokees have argued that the Freedmen aren't Indians unless they have at least one Cherokee ancestor. The Freedmen counter that they're Indians by treaty and by 150 years of participating in Cherokee life.

Here's how Russell puts it:Remember the position of the modern Indian fighters: every program that benefits Indians, all of Title 25 of the US Code, is racial discrimination against white people. Our response to that is the distinction between “race” and citizenship that the Cherokee Supreme Court has trashed without analysis. This distinction is what has kept money flowing to Indian country over the objections of the Indian fighters.

The danger is obvious that the Congressional Indian fighters could use the Cherokee case as a wedge against all appropriations to tribes, even those required by treaty. Circumstances have changed, you see, and “race discrimination” cannot be tolerated.
Comment:  Excellent point. If the Cherokees insist that only people with Indian "blood" can be tribal members, the "Indian fighters" may go along. They may use that assertion to claim that every treaty and law that favors Indians is discriminatory. Then they could overturn two centuries of Indian law and wipe out the tribes as sovereign entities.

For more on the subject, see Minority-on-Minority Freedmen Battle and Deal Restores Freedmen Citizenship.


Anonymous said...

You can't win for losing if you're Cherokee. This is a difficult battle to wage. If you believe in your Nation's right to determine citizenship, then put your shield up. Be prepared to have your name dragged through the mud as a racist, slave-holder.

I read Russell's article and as derogatory as it is towards the people of the Cherokee Nation, I couldn't help but have a different perspective. I'm a young Cherokee. I've grown up in Northeast Oklahoma. I know and have family members who are Cherokee with differing ethnic backgrounds aside from being Cherokee. I've seen, heard, and experienced the criticism from Indian Country about how "Cherokee's aren't even Indian" and now that the Cherokee Nation moves toward a blood quantum the Cherokee are now racist hate-mongers. I hear often from my elders that many of these people never had/wanted anything to do with the Nation until it was perceived that there was something to be gained and certainly not for a continuous 150 years.

My understanding of the CN Supreme Court decision was that it only considered the validity of the Amendment, not the Treaty of 1866. There is currently a federal case in the Northern District of Oklahoma which considers the question of whether the Treaty of 1866 conferred a federal right to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation. The notion sounds incredibly paradoxical in terms of the rights of Indigenous Sovereigns (Art. 33, UNDRIP) and the Nation-to-Nation relationship this administration swears to uphold. But unlike Russell, I believe in the integrity of my High Court and was/am ready to live with any decision the Court made/makes on this matter.

Russell argues that the Cherokee are dragging the rest of Indian Country down a slippery slope of treaty nullification. My position is that Indian Country can do what it wants with this issue. Indian people can stand up for their right to determine citizenship or they can sit idly by and let the great white father determine it for them. Maybe it's a generational divide but I, being young, haven't grown up thinking treaties are sacred covenants. I've viewed them as deceptive and empty promises. In fact, I'm still waiting on my Cherokee Delegate to Congress, been waiting since 1835 or so. I also think that this race argument is generational. I only see people from the Civil Rights heyday really making the race argument strongly. I don't discredit the fight those people made but skin color is largely irrelevant to people my age and definitely irrelevant within my network of friends and acquaintances. I don't tolerate racial prejudice and I solemnly believe that my peers don't either.

As hurtful as it is sometimes, I'll continue to hold my shield. I don't want another stick of Sovereign Rights taken from what was once my bundle. If the Freedmen Descendants, or any other non-Indian affected by the amendment, wanted citizenship in my Nation they should have made the case to the people, not the feds.

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that the Cherokees have taken this route of disenfranchising a historical mark in the chapter of native America with regards to the Freedmen cause. As a full blooded native, being enrolled in the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, does not give much room for being native either. You see, I too, receive no quarter or recognition for being Kiowa. I am discouraged and eliminated from participating in tribal affairs and elections also, so I know what disenfranchised means, even as a full blood. In the Kiowas case, the tribe has never been able to expand outside of Carnegie Oklahoma. Its revenues, jobs, programs and services are contained in this small rural community in southwest Oklahoma even though many tribal members live across the nation in many states. I do not believe however, that this problem is simply a Kiowa or Cherokee phenomenon.

I believe it to be an Oklahoma thing. Oklahomans and the State government of Oklahoma have done a real successful job in keeping that state and its people, non-natives included, in an acceptable and perpetual state of segregation and division. Divided by the strongly conservative and religious rule has kept and continues to keep Oklahomans in the dark ages with racism and white supremacy, not on the ground levels, but in its leadership and economic structures. An Obama presidency seems to keep its main publisher, the daily Oklahoman in a fit of discomfort, tossing and turning on a bed of ashes praying for the demise of our first black president.

Its very painful for them, and sadly along with this racism is the added native populations and their leadership that has always been in bed with the good ol’boy system, especially the more expansive tribes in the eastern part of the state like the Cherokees and Choctaws, that represent, cater to and ignore whats left of their full bloods. In my case, the Kiowa have done the same. They have caved in to their oppressors religious and political conservative enemies votes and loyalties against one another.

The whiteman has conquered the Cherokees and the Kiowas because they are actively and successfully divided within and without for their decisions to exclude and isolate tribal members that do not live around Talequah or Carnegie so we can therefore name these tribes, the Carnegie Tribe of Oklahoma and the Talequah Nation of Oklahoma?