From the Cherokee Nation website www.cherokee.org
                  Discussion of Freedmen Citizenship By Chad Smith
                         


David Cornsilk
March 17 2006 

George Wallace said:

Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!!!!

Chad is the new George Wallace (who, by the way, finally apologized for his bigotry before he died).

Chad Smith, not unlike his bigoted predecessors Swimmer and Mankiller, see the Freedmen as a group separate and distinct from the rest of the Cherokee people. That view is rooted in age old racial biases that have been present in our tribe since the inception of Afro-based chattel slavery in the late 18th Century and inflamed by the influx of southern whites following Oklahoma statehood. In fact, the Grand Wizard of the KKK, around the year 1922, was a Cherokee thinblood.

We, as a people, have been like sponges, absorbing both the good and bad of Euro-American culture, often without our knowledge or consent. Such thinking, quite simply, is not consistent with historic fact or traditional Cherokee thinking. Freedmen have lived with Cherokees by blood, intermarried with us and have been an inseparable part of our tribe from nearly the first contact between blacks and Cherokees.

Smith makes some interesting and even laudable points in his diatribe, but in the end, his words are nothing more than an effort to make the Cherokees by blood think something has been taken away from them, when in fact, something extremely important has been returned. The Council, in making exclusionary laws depriving certain Cherokees of their civil rights in the tribe, set a dangerous precedent whereby any ethnic group in our tribe may find itself in danger of losing civil rights. The Constitution is the foundation of governance in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. It is the will of the people regarding how the government will function, including citizenship. When the Council or executive take it upon themselves to supplement the Constitution so that it meets their own personal agenda, i.e. racism, they are in violation of the law. That is all that the Allen Court has said.

The potential for an attack on the rights of Cherokee citizens of various ethnic configurations is now a thing of the past. Before Allen, the Council was free to pass laws depriving Cherokee citizens of their civil rights and nothing could be done to stop it. Imagine the outcry across the Cherokee Nation if the law demanding a CDIB card (blood quantum) were amended to require a CDIB card showing 1/4 blood degree or more. Suddenly over 90 percent of the Cherokee population would find themselves in the same boat the Freedmen have been floating on for 23 years. Suddenly, Cherokee people who had been long-standing members of their nation, find themselves viewed as strangers in their own homeland. If you think it could not happen, look carefully at the disenrollment activity taking place all across the United States among tribal leaders driven by greed and hate. Look even closer in our own backyard at what happened to the Freedmen.

While it is currently vogue for Smith and his ilk to view adopted Shawnees, Delaware and Creeks as equals to Cherokees by blood, perhaps another administration would not be so friendly. Indian identity based on blood quantum is a highly contentious issue in Indian country and the Cherokees by blood are no different. Who is an Indian is something that can only be determined on an individual level. I have my views of whom I will accept as an Indian. Other's may have different views. These are all racial questions rooted in upbringing, community values and broader social influences. They have nothing to do with citizenship. Race is strictly a social construct, whereas citizenship is strictly political.

Following, I will attempt to respond to some of Smith's views on Freedmen rights, giving him credit where due and showing him to be the bigot we know he is when necessary:


Chad said:
Recently, the Judicial Appeal Tribunal (JAT), the Cherokee Nation's Supreme Court, held in the case of Lucy Allen vs Cherokee Nation Tribal Council that a 1983 Cherokee Nation Law that limited citizenship in the Cherokee Nation to Cherokees, Shawnees and Delawares by blood was unconstitutional because it excluded Freedmen. The JAT considered this same issue in 2001 in the case of Riggs v. Ummerteskee and at that time the JAT held the law was constitutional.

David replies:
So far so good. He's truthful and straightforward in his opening assessment. However, he fails to mention that the Justices who gave the final order in Riggs were not the justices who heard the case. In fact, the ruling came years after the case went to trial and neither the attorney, nor the plaintiff had been notified of the outcome. Another interesting fact impacting the Riggs case is that the justice who wrote the opinion, now Chief Justice Matlock, was appointed only months earlier by Chad Smith, and Justice Viles was not only a political supporter of Smith, but was the only justice to support a runoff between Smith and Byrd in the 1995 election. Smith also fails to point out that the Riggs ruling was contrary to a ruling already on record with the JAT, Leach v. Election Commission, where Smith and Matlock (before being appointed to the bench), sued the EC on grounds that an absentee Cherokee had been deprived of his civil rights because of an extra constitutional residency requirement. The suit was actually on behalf of Smith, and the plaintiff Bobby Leach, in an affidavit, admitted that he had filed the suit on Chad Smith's behalf so that Smith would not have to publicly admit he was not a resident of the Cherokee Nation. Matlock was later rewarded for his duplicity in the scheme with an appointment to that very court.

Chad said:
Freedmen were former slaves of Cherokees by blood and were emancipated and given Cherokee Nation citizenship by a 1866 amendment to our 1839 Constitution after the American Civil War.

David replies:
While this statement may have a ring of truth to it, it is misleading in its omission of who the Freedmen really are. A review of the historic record concerning the persons placed on the Dawes Rolls as Freedmen reveals that at least 1/3 of them are actually Cherokees by blood, who, because of having some degree of African ancestry, were shooed into the Negro tent to be listed as Freedmen with no degree of blood. Large numbers of Cherokee Indians by blood appear on the Freedmen roll with no degree of blood next to their names and previously, no way to reclaim their rightful place in the Cherokee Nation. I have file after file of families split in two, some siblings being placed on the Freedmen roll, while others are listed as Cherokees by blood. Lucy Allen's family were listed by the Cherokee authorities as Native Cherokees in 1880, but as Freedmen by the Dawes Commission. I am currently researching a family who are descended from a woman whose father was full blood Cherokee, but dead at the time of the Dawes Rolls. She attempted to enroll as a Cherokee by blood, but because her mother was a negro Freedmen, she was forced to enroll with no degree of blood next to her name. Because all of her Cherokee by blood ancestors were dead in 1902, her descendants have no hope of enrollment except as Freedmen.

Chad said:
In the case of Lucy Allen, the JAT reversed itself by ruling that Article III of our 1975 Constitution was not clear enough when Cherokees voted on the constitution to exclude the Freedmen.

David replies:
This statement is patently untrue and anyone reading the case will be able to determine how untruthful it really is. The JAT ruled that Article III is in fact, quite clear in its determination that citizens of the Cherokee Nation whose names appear on the Dawes Rolls, including the Delawares and Shawnees, will be eligible for membership in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. There is nothing ambiguous about Article III and the court recognized that fact.

Chad said:
Article III provided that Cherokee Nation citizens were descendants of the Dawes Rolls, including Shawnees and Delawares. The 1975 Constitution was adopted by a margin of more than 6 to 1. Although the interpretation of Article III is controversial as to whether it excluded Freedmen or not, it is very clear that the determination of who may or may not become a citizen is a question reserved for the Cherokee voters.

David replies:
First and foremost, the 1975 Constitution was not adopted in accordance with Federal law. It ignored the amendment procedures in place in the 1839 Constitution, nowhere near 30 percent of the eligible voting population participated and the CNO is not organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act. Chad is correct in his assessment that citizenship is a matter best left to the people of the Cherokee Nation. That matter was taken care of when the Cherokee people adopted a constitution that was all inclusive of Dawes enrollees. The words blood degree, by blood or blood quantum do not appear in Article III. The law at bar in the Allen case raised the blood requirement in addition to requirements found in Article III. That is what made it unconstitutional. Just as unconstitutional as a requirement that someone be a specific degree of blood. We must not forget that the boat we make to send away the Freedmen, may be the same boat we find ourselves leaving on.

Chad said:
Many Cherokees, including those who wrote the 1975 Constitution, believe that Cherokee voters understood that a vote to approve the 1975 Constitution would exclude Freedmen from citizenship.

David replies:
Racism is an ugly thing and I'm sure if it exists in Chad today, it existed in those folks in 1975. But the fact remains, when they created Article III of the Constitution, they did not and could not, by silence, exclude a class of citizens. They may have hoped their wording, or lack thereof, would accomplish exclusion of the Freedmen, but to believe such a thing would also exclude the Cherokees by blood, who are, themselves, not mentioned in Article III. If we are to believe that silent ommission is exclusive, then the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is a tribe comprised only of Shawnees and Delawares, who are the only people mentioned by name. Or, as some might hope, silence regarding the Cherokees by blood would require that only those who are identifiably Cherokee can be members, or some other citizenship configuration we are left to conjecture about due to the silence of the constitution.

Chad said:
Many of those voting to exclude the Freedmen believe that an Indian nation should be composed of Indians, that Freedmen were compensated with allotments unlike freed slaves in the South after the American Civil War. These Cherokees believe the Freedmen did not help during the last 100 hundred years to rebuild the Cherokee Nation and should not at this late time reap any benefits that Cherokees have earned.

David replies:
This is probably the most peculiar of all of Smith's assertions. The allotments were not compensation to any of the citizens of the Cherokee Nation, and Smith knows this. They were a division of a tribal holding, of which the Freedmen were a legal part, and who rightfully claimed and received their share, just as any Cherokee by blood or adoption. Had the states of the old Confederacy been divided in severalty among the citizens of those states, each and every white, black, Indian and Chinese Alabama, Georgian etc. would have received an allotment, not as compensation, but as citizens of a dismantled state. That never happened. For Smith to make a comparison of what happened during allotment in the Cherokee Nation to the inclusion of free blacks in the old South is either the height of ignorance or an intentional attempt to confuse the Cherokee people by comparing apples to oranges.

And since when is making a contribution to the Cherokee Nation a requirement for citizenship. If that were the case, most of the Cherokees by blood would be out on their ears. If we look carefully at our own contributions to the "rebuilding" of the Cherokee Nation, most of us would come up quite short, including Chad Smith, who has done nothing to rebuild the Cherokee Nation that did not get him a paycheck. If there wasn't money to be made on his Cherokee blood, we wouldn't even know his name. And further, since being unceremoniously booted from the tribal rolls in 1983, the Freedmen have had no way to assist. Their efforts to make contributions have been rebuffed. Who knows what heights our Nation may have risen to through the contributions of some Freedmen descendant who has been blocked at the door.

Chad said:
Others believe the Cherokee Nation should be an Indian republic like it was before Oklahoma Statehood when it had 7 million acres of exclusive land and was composed of five culture/ethnic groups including the Cherokees by blood, Delawares by blood, Shawnees by blood, Inter-married whites and Freedmen. These people believe this historic citizenship should be continued into the future.

David replies:
Good job Chad, exactly what the Cherokee Nation was, is and will be again. Anyone who does not want that for our people does not have the best interest of the Cherokee people and our Nation at heart. If our goal is not restoration of our Republic, then what's it all for anyway?

Chad said:
Of course there is another class of people who see some political benefit in exclusion or inclusion of the Freedmen.

David replies:
Politics is all around us. Good job on being balanced in this statement.

Chad said:
Regardless of one's point of view, the Lucy Allen case reinforces the principle that the Constitutional government of the Cherokee Nation is the same constitutional government formed in 1839. It properly destroys the falsehood that there is a new Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma created in 1975 and an older Cherokee Nation with a constitution dated in 1839. There is only one constitutional government of the Cherokee people since 1839 and that simply is Cherokee Nation. The claim of Freedmen citizenship goes back to the 1866 amendment to the 1839 Cherokee Nation Constitution.

David replies:
Chad is correct when he says that "...there is ONLY ONE constitutional government of the Cherokee people since 1839 and that simply is Cherokee Nation." What he forgets to say, or neglects to tell us is by what authority Ross Swimmer and cohorts created this new organization called the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. How it could possibly be the same political creature when it was not created under the auspices of the 1839 constitutional governance? The Allen case says no such thing. The citizenship of the Cherokee people, all of them, is rooted in the 1839 Constitution. Their rights to participate in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma as full and equal members was recognized by the JAT and nothing more. Again, he compares apples to oranges. The CNO is nothing more than an outgrowth of the 1970 Principal Chief's Act passed by Congress to permit the popular selection of the Principal officers of the Five Civilized Tribes. That federal law permitted the Principal Chief to "promulgate rules" to carry into effect the election process. There was no other authority, except the authority of the 1839 Constitution which in fact, had created the office of Principal Chief.

Chad said:
The other thing that is clear is that the Cherokee Nation Constitution is not based on race. People of many different ethnic backgrounds, African-Americans, White Americans and Hispanic Americans, have Cherokee ancestors on the Dawes Roll and they are unquestionably entitled to Cherokee Nation citizenship. However, someone will undoubted play the race card in this debate. The issue at hand is what classes of people should be citizens of the Cherokee Nation, and who should make that decision, the courts or the Cherokee people themselves.

David replies:
The JAT has done only one thing, recognized the right of the Cherokee people, and not the council, to determine citizenship. We, in 1975 adopted a constitution and proscribed in it the terms by which membership would be determined. The council did a dirty deed by passing laws dividing the citizenry by race and then excluding a segment just because they are of African ancestry. Chad has played the race card himself. He sees the sections of the Dawes Rolls as being separate and apart from each other. He cannot see that he is the Principal Chief of all Cherokees, by blood and adoption. When looking at the Constitutionally designated base roll of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the Dawes Roll, a true representative of all Cherokees will see one book filled with the names of many many Cherokees. A racist will see an opportunity to mistreat people based on the color of their skin. I ask you, which are you.

Chad said:
To put the Lucy Allen case in perspective, the court acknowledged that Cherokee citizens may decide who are entitled to citizenship. Many Cherokees believed that issue was settled in 1975 with the passage of the Constitution and exclusion of Freedmen. By a 2-1 vote, three people essentially changed the last 30 years of Cherokee Nation Governance. The court reversed itself and changed the way the Cherokee Constitution was interpreted.

David replies:
Nine people changed the course of American history when they ruled, in Brown v. Board of Education, that separate but equal accommodations for blacks was unconstitutional. That ruling changed 60 years of governance. One year of oppression against any class of Cherokee citizens is too long. Chad whines about 30 years of sitting in the catbird's seat, reaping all the benefits, sopping up all the gravy, while slamming the door on Cherokee people. Chad's just mad cause he didn't win this case. Again, he needs to put himself into the shoes of the Freedmen. A day may come that he will face the same attack. And how can he whine about 3 people making this decision when he makes life changing decisions daily. Chad is the executive officer of the CNO. He is just one man, yet he makes decisions every day that impact the lives of thousands of Cherokees. Are we, following his lead, to decry his decisions because he is just "one man" or do we respect the law and our form of government? What kind of example is he if he says he only respects the rulings that agree with him. I thought Joe Byrd left office, but perhaps I was right when I said the two of them are truly twin brothers of different mothers.

Chad said:
The process to decide the issue of Freedmen citizenship is a constitutional amendment at the polls. The constitutional question to determine citizenship and especially whether to exclude Freedmen and Inter-married whites may be placed on the next general election ballot by a referendum petition or by a constitutional question authorized by resolution of the Council. Even the Council is divided on this question. Bill John Baker, Joe Crittenden, Chuck Hoskins, David Thornton Melvina Shotpouch, and Johnny Keener all voted several months to prohibit the Cherokee Nation from contesting a federal lawsuit brought by Freedmen to gain citizenship.

Although many disagree and some agree with the JAT decision to include Freedmen as citizens, I believe everyone understands it is a question reserved to the Cherokee people. Since the JAT ruled the question was not resolved in 1975, I believe the Cherokee people should answer the question once and for all of who should be entitled to Cherokee citizenship and the status of the Freedmen.

David replies:
Before we go amending the constitution to exclude people, think about your own situation. Think about how it would feel. Think about whether it would be right for White Supremacist to offer up a constitutional amendment to deprive Native Americans and/or blacks of citizenship in the United States. Do you really want to be a part of that kind of thinking?