Reporter: Well a Cherokee supreme court ruling means as many as 2800 freedmen are off the Cherokee rolls immediately. The Cherokee’s have been involved in a tribal tug of war over citizenship of descendants of slaves once held by tribal members. I went to (indecipherable) to learn more about the court’s decision. In the debate over freedman and Cherokee citizenship there are plenty of thoughts on each side. Some are for tough citizenship requirements.
David Adams: Person oughta at least one member of their family to be tribal.
Reporter: Others favor the freedman
Kenneth Payton: It’s my legal right; it’s my humane right. This is more of a human rights issue than anything else.
Reporter: Many don’t want any part of the controversy.
Mark Holloway: I don’t know, I don’t get involved in it. I try to stay out of it.
Reporter: But the opinion with the most weight came from the Cherokee supreme court which basically ruled that tribal citizenship ends immediately, for 2800 freedman or descendants of slaves, once held by tribal members. It’s upsetting to many freedman.
Kenneth Payton: I think that’s horrible. I think it’s deplorable and a travesty of justice.
Reporter: The tribal justices upheld a 2007 constitutional requiring all of the nations citizens to have at least one ancestor on the Dawes rolls. That reversed a lower court’s ruling that the amendment violated an 1866 treaty giving freedman and their descendants membership.
Sonya Edwards: If they have proof I’m for it, but if they don’t have proof then no
Reporter: The 1866 treaty said the freedman and their descendants have all the rights of native Cherokees, but the tribal high court says that the freedman were never accorded citizenship in the tribe by that treaty.
Marilyn Vann: I’m very upset. I am disappointed that the law and the treaty was not followed.
Reporter: Any freedman that can trace lineage back to the Dawes rolls would retain their tribal citizenship. Now a case involving the tribe and the former slaves descendants is still pending in federal court in Washington D.C. You can read the ten page Cherokee supreme court ruling on this issue.
I believe that Payton was right, this is a human rights issue. The Cherokee nation enslaved his ancestors and profited from their labor. A debt is most certainly owed. Just as blood quantum has been used to attack and reduce what is accepted as the Native American population, this same weapon is now being used to attack the descendants of slaves. This is reflected in the demand for proof. It is absolutely problematic to decide that someone’s identity is false.
I was stunned as I watched all of the light skinned Native Americans who were quick to deny the validity of this claim. I wonder if it even occurred to them that they have passing privilege, as they were taking up the master’s tools to “other” a group of people based on a historical evil. It hurt to know that these light skinned people were welcome but the Blacks are not.
I suppose that they feel comfortable with this situation because other than a paltry apology, the government has done little to right this historic injustice. Even the threat of reparations is enough to set conservatives foaming at the mouth as they continue to find new and horrible ways to disenfranchise Blacks. So I suppose the true question is why should the Cherokee nation be held accountable when the government of the United States is not? For me the answer comes down to the fact that justice has to start somewhere.Evading responsibility and removing the freedmen from the rolls is wrong and further it smacks of denying culpability for the harm that was done.
Given the conservative state of the current supreme court, I really don’t expect a positive ruling on this issue. It aids the project of White supremacy to have these two groups permanently divided. It’s hard enough for the freedman to directly interact with the descendants of the people who saw their ancestors as property, and this latest decision is the equivalent of pouring salt in those open wounds. When people of colour are divided from each other, Whiteness wins and believe me, when it comes to this decision that’s who won.