Reps Dan Boren, Tom Cole denounce call for freedmen inquiry
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
WASHINGTON — Two Oklahoma lawmakers lashed out Tuesday at a request by six of their colleagues for a civil rights investigation of the Five Tribes of Oklahoma.
Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, called the request "an affront to tribal sovereignty.” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said it was "abhorrent and unfair.”
Tribal representatives also took issue with the request that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder investigate whether the tribes are illegally barring descendants of former slaves from full citizenship.
Six members of the House sent Holder a letter last week requesting a "full-scale investigation into what we believe are the Five Tribes’ systematic expulsion of its freedman citizens in violation of their treaty, voting and civil rights.”
The signers of the letter include Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
Another signer is Rep. Diane Watson of California, who authored legislation in the last Congress to prevent the Cherokee Nation from receiving federal money unless it allowed freedmen — the term used for the descendants of slaves — to continue to be part of the tribe.
Five of the six signing the letter are black.
The Five Tribes, once known as the Five Civilized Tribes, are all based in Oklahoma. They are: the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles and Muscogee (Creeks).
The controversy centers on the descendants of slaves once owned by tribal members. Some contend that an 1866 treaty compels the tribes to allow the freedmen to be full tribal members.
Members of the Cherokee Nation voted in 2006 to limit tribal rolls to those with Cherokee blood. The move is the subject of two federal lawsuits and spawned Capitol Hill interest in the freedmen.
The lawmakers requesting the investigation say the Cherokees, Choctaws, Seminoles and Creeks have taken steps to strip freedmen of full citizen rights. The Chickasaws’ posture should be investigated, the lawmakers say.
Boren and Cole noted that President Barack Obama, during his campaign last year, said Congress should stay out of the freedmen controversy.
Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, said, "The idea of using the Justice Department as a weapon to beat tribes into submission is abhorrent and unfair.”
Boren said he and Cole would write their own letter to Holder.