Feds Order Cherokee To Let Blacks Into Nation

Larry Echo Hawk, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs

The US Bureau of Indian Affairs has ordered the Cherokee Nation to allow African-American descendants of the so-called “Freemen” back into the tribe, after they were expelled for not being of Cherokee descent.

As previously reported, the Supreme Court of the Cherokee Nation revoked citizenship of the Freemen on August 23, upholding a 2007 constitutional amendment requiring all members of the Cherokee Nation to have at least one ancestor with Cherokee blood. The ruling strips the Freemen of their Cherokee nationhood and forbids them from voting in tribal elections and access to Cherokee rescources.

Dianne Hammons, Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation, explained that the ruling allows the tribe to “determine for themselves who is Cherokee.”

“You have to be Indian [sic] to be a member of an Indian [sic] tribe,” she said at the time of the ruling.

The tribe followed that up by sending out letters to all Freemen descendants last week, officially notifying them that they were no longer members.

Acting Cherokee Chief S. Joe Crittenden

In addition to stripping the Freemen descendants of tribal benefits, the expelling also bars them from voting in a special September 24 election for principal chief, reports The Associated Press. “The Cherokee Supreme Court ordered the special election after it said it could not determine with certainty the outcome of a close and hotly contested June election between incumbent Chad Smith and longtime tribal councilman Bill John Baker,” the news agency notes. “The results had flip-flopped between the two during weeks of counts and recounts. Baker had twice been declared winner, but so had Smith.”

On Tuesday, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk ordered the Cherokee Nation to reverse its decision, declaring a provision in an 1866 allowing the Freemen into the tribe was still valid for their descendents. Echo Hawk also called into question the legitimacy of the special election if Freemen descendants were not allowed to vote.

“I urge you to consider carefully the nation’s next steps in proceeding with an election that does not comply with federal law,” Echo Hawk wrote to acting Chief S. Joe Crittenden. “The department will not recognize any action taken by the nation that is inconsistent with these principles and does not accord its freedmen members full rights of citizenship.”

Crittenden shot back in his own letter, defiantly stating that “The Cherokee Nation will not be governed by the (Bureau of Indian Affairs). We will hold our election and continue our long legacy of responsible self-governance.”

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