The Freedmen Issue

I have spoken on this blog in the past about the Cherokee Freedman controversy (click here to read past posts), but tonight after reading some crap on the Cherokee Nation’s website feel like I need to say more about the matter.

As I understand it, the basic facts of the situation are this…

The Cherokee (along with many other Indian tribes) owned slaves prior to their removal in the Trail of Tears. In the removal, the Cherokee brought their slaves with them to their lands in what would someday become Oklahoma.

During the Civil war, the Oklahoma tribes were split as to who they would support North or South, but a sizable number allied themselves with the South. After the war, the North used the fact that some tribal members fought with the South to justify harsh reconstruction treaties in which the tribes lost about half of their lands.
However, a good result from reconstruction was the abolition of slavery among the Indian tribes. The Union insisted that the tribes either adopt their former slaves (the new “freedmen”) as tribal members, or they would be required to give the freedmen substantial financial settlements and full emancipation. Most of the tribes (including the Cherokee) went with the first option.

In later years, the Cherokee have tried to renege on their treaty obligations (ironic, since it is normally the white man that breaks Indian treaties) by kicking the freedmen out of the tribe. This to me is wrong. The Cherokee were wrong (as were non-Indians of the South) when they owned slaves. But they did commit this great wrong. The Freedmen have now been part of Cherokee society for over 100 years as free Cherokee people. To kick them out now, is no different and no less wrong that what the Southern states did when they enacted Jim Crow laws to put their former slaves into virtual slavery and subjugation. And it is

Being an Indian is certainly about blood ties, but it is more than that. It is culture, it is tradition, it is language. To me the Freedmen suffered alongside the Cherokees and even under the Cherokees. To kick them out now is the ultimate insult.

I’m not surprised to see the current tribal administration defend their actions on their website, but I do find it particularly ironic to see them do so while displaying this little graphic on their website…

Common Values, Common ground - graphic taken from
Here are these beautiful Cherokee children with their hands over their hearts (presumably reciting the pledge of allegiance) while one child is holding an American flag.Pardon me while I barf.

The Cherokee were sent on a genocidal death march by the US Army. That flag was carried by the troops who took the Cherokee to Oklahoma, and that flag flew over the White House where racist President Andrew Jackson defied the Supreme Court and ordered the Indian removals to continue.

But now, the great Cherokee Nation is willing to sell itself out and have their children be used as a propaganda tool in favor of disenfranchising the Freedmen, by playing to the presumed “common values, common ground” between racist pro-exclusion Cherokees and the dominant white culture.

I am proud to be Cherokee (I’m not a citizen though because my Cherokee ancestor wasn’t allowed to sign it by her white husband, but that doesn’t change my heritage), but I’m not proud of what the Cherokee nation is doing.

I stand with the Freedmen and will continue to stand with them. There is a move by members of the Congressional Black caucus to take away federal funding for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. (Here is the Cherokee Nation’s response to this (PDF download). I hope it doesn’t come to this, but if the Cherokee nation will not back down then I think the funding should be yanked. I don’t think it is right for the Federal government to aid and abet racism, and if the Cherokee nation will not live up to its treaty obligations to the Freedmen then I don’t see what the alternative is.

Let me say it one more way. The Cherokees action to take away tribal citizenship and to take away the Freedmen’s right to vote, is no different than the US deciding to repeal 14th and 15th Amendments.