Cherokee Freedmen Issue Heads To Washington DC
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
The continuing controversy over 'Cherokee Freedmen' has made its way to the nation's capital. The Freedmen are descendants of African slaves once owned by the Cherokees, and they are fighting to remain members of the tribe.
News On 6 reporter Chris Wright reports a hearing began Wednesday afternoon in Washington, D.C. The Freedmen are trying to stop a special election in March that could potentially kick them out of the tribe.
For as long as there have been Cherokees in Oklahoma, there have been Freedmen. 1,600 of them accompanied their Cherokee owners on the Trail of Tears. But after their freedom was granted following the Civil War, the Freedmen slowly fell out of favor with tribe, until last year.
A tribal court ruled in March of 2006 that a 140-year-old treaty guaranteed the Freedmen's tribal rights, meaning they are eligible for tax breaks, health care, and other benefits. The ruling fueled speculation that the Freedmen were simply trying to take advantage of Cherokee Casino profits. "They look at it as a matter of money. Other people, I believe, look at it, as they don't like people who look different than them. Other people, they have stereotypes," says Marilyn Vann, a Cherokee Freedman.
Shortly after the Freedmen were allowed back into the tribe, critics of the ruling circulated a petition demanding that Cherokee voters be allowed decide the issue. They collected more than 3,000 signatures, and a special election is now scheduled for March 3rd. That could mean Freedmen could once again be denied Cherokee citizenship. That is, unless a federal judge stops that election from taking place.
Cherokee Nation believes that all Native American tribes will be paying close attention to the federal hearing. It says if the federal government can stop a Cherokee special election, it may set a precedent for government intervention in the affairs of other tribes.