Chads Words from the Chiefs
March 8 2006
Discussion of Freedmen Citizenship
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. 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.
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
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.
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. 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.
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
Of course there is another class of people who see some political
benefit in exclusion or inclusion of the Freedmen.
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
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
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.
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.
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.