Muscogee Creek citizen Eli Grayson emphasizes a point about the Cherokee Freedmen issue during an Aug. 27 meeting in Muskogee. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Freedmen vow to continue fighting Cherokee Nation for their rights

President of the Descendents of Freedmen Association Marilyn Vann speaks with other Cherokee Freedmen following an Aug. 27 meeting in Muskogee. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
President of the Descendents of Freedmen Association Marilyn Vann speaks with other Cherokee Freedmen following an Aug. 27 meeting in Muskogee. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
08/30/2011 08:29 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – The library of the Martin Luther King Center in Muskogee was filled to capacity Aug. 27 as Cherokee Freedmen met to discuss the Aug. 22 Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruling that once again ousted them from the tribe.

The approximately 100 people at the meeting resolved to continue fighting for their citizenship and discussed options for regaining CN citizenship and their voting rights.

Many of the Freedmen at the meeting expressed concern about not being able to vote in the Sept. 24 election for principal chief between Tribal Councilor Bill John Baker and former principal chief Chad Smith. In an Aug. 23 press release, President of the Descendants of Freedmen Association Marilyn Vann said she was suspicious of the timing of the ruling.

“This action happened just before the election. Freedmen have a right by law, by treaty to vote,” Vann said.

Vann said she was given permission to inform people at the meeting that attorneys representing Cherokee Freedmen are filing a preliminary injunction in federal court this week “to ensure Freedmen rights are protected” for the Sept. 24 election. If the CN states Freedmen cannot vote on Sept. 24, Vann said Freedmen should attempt to vote anyway because she believes federal officials will be watching to see what happens that day.

“If by chance this election still goes on and they have taken your name off the voting rolls, you still need to go down there to try to vote because it might set it up to where the election may not count,” she said.

John Parris, a former CN attorney who is not part of the Cherokee Freedmen legal team but has been assisting them by explaining legal matters, also spoke at the meeting. He said he concurs with Freedmen attorneys who believe the 1866 Treaty is a law of the CN. He added he believes the Freedmen stand a better chance of winning their rights in federal court, and the federal judge hearing the eight-year-old case of Vann v. Salazar in Washington, D.C., has been “staying his hand” waiting for the CN courts to rule on Freedmen rights.

Marilyn Vann and five other plaintiffs filed Vann vs. Salazar in 2003 because Freedmen were not allowed to vote in the 2003 CN elections.

“As far as the election coming up quickly, I can see a federal judge likely saying that we’re going to maintain the status quo…and everybody that was eligible to vote last week will be allowed to vote this week,” Parris said.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Diane Hammons said at the Aug. 25 Tribal Council Rules Committee meeting that CN has been in contact with the Freedmen attorneys and is preparing for the federal court filing by the Freedmen legal team.

“I anticipate that something will be filed in the District of Columbia next week,” Hammons said. “I don’t know what that is. I guess the most positive thing I can report in that regard is that we are trying to anticipate the worst and prepare for it but hope for the best.”

During the meeting, Freedmen members discussed filing lawsuits against individual Cherokee leaders for discrimination and emulating civil rights leaders in the south that peacefully fought discrimination and segregation laws nearly 50 years ago.

“Just like the blacks did in the Deep South, we are going to have to continue to fight and work together to keep our rights,” Vann said. “Dr. (Martin Luther) King and Rosa Parks and those folks, if they did not use the legal system they would still have Jim Crow laws (segregation laws) in half the states in this country.”

She added black people fighting for their rights in 1960s did not stop at state courts when those courts denied them their rights and appealed to federal courts, which the Freedmen have also done.

The second Freedmen case pending in a Washington, D.C., federal court deals with a suit filed by the CN in February 2009 in the Northern District of Oklahoma against Freedmen involved in the Nash suit. In July 2010, a federal judge in Tulsa, Okla., refused to hear the case and ordered it moved to the District Court for the District of Columbia.

In a 4-1 ruling on Aug. 22, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court reversed a January 2011 CN District Court ruling decision that voided a 2007 constitutional amendment that denied citizenship to descendants of former black slaves who do not have Indian blood.

The District Court had ruled in Nash v. CN Registrar that the amendment violated the 1866 Treaty between the CN and United States that gave Freedmen “the rights and privileges of other Cherokees.”

In a written opinion, the Supreme Court stated Cherokee Freedmen were not provided citizenship by the Treaty of 1866 but rather by an amendment to the 1839 Cherokee Constitution in November 1866. The court stated the Cherokee people have a sovereign right to define Cherokee citizenship and did so by voting for and approving the 2007 amendment.

During the Aug. 27 meeting, Muscogee Creek citizen Eli Grayson appealed to Cherokee Freedmen to not argue about blood quantum and citizenship by blood because they are Cherokee citizens by the 1866 treaty. In the treaty, Freedmen were not required to have Indian blood to be a CN citizen, and Cherokee people did not have the right to vote Freedmen out of the CN based on Indian blood, he said.

“Free yourselves of their argument that it’s about Indian blood. That’s a lie; let it go. Either you are a member of these tribes or you’re not. In my world…you’re either Creek or you are non-Creek. In your world you’re either Cherokee or you’re non-Cherokee,” Grayson said. “Your ancestors knew who they were in 1866. They knew they were not American; they knew they were Cherokee. These (tribes) are political groups of people not races.”

The Freedmen plan to demonstrate at 2:30 p.m., Sept. 2, outside the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Muskogee. They also plan to march the following morning in the Cherokee National Holiday Parade in Tahlequah.

will-chavez@cherokee.org • (918) 207-3961

About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life.
He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association.

Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He enjoys studying and writing about Cherokee history and culture and writing stories about Cherokee veterans. For Will, the most enjoyable part of writing for the Cherokee Phoenix is having the opportunity to meet Cherokee people from all walks of life. He earned a mass communications degree in 1993 from Northeastern State University with minors in marketing and psychology. He is a member of the Native American Journalists Association. Will has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 20 years. He has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a reporter and a photographer for the Cherokee Phoenix for more than 18 years. He was named interim executive editor on Dec. 8, 2015, by the Cherokee Phoenix Editorial Board.

News

BY JAMI MURPHY
Senior Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
09/30/2016 04:00 PM
CANNON BALL, N.D. – In September, two Cherokee Nation citizens, attorney Jim Cosby and CN employee Marcus Thompson, returned to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation to show their support and deliver collected supplies. The two men said they enjoyed their August experience there and were glad to lend a hand again. Thompson, a husband and father, said it’s not always easy to pick up and leave, but for something like this it was important to him and his family that he go and show support. “My wife told me, she said, ‘you need to go back and get more experience than you did the first time. The place got a lot bigger. The first time it was pretty packed, but now you got people all up and down the (Cannon Ball) river and all on the west side,” he said. “Made sure my family was cared for before I left and I made sure my leave (from work) was approved before I left.” Thompson said he wished he could share the experience with his family so they could see people gathering for a cause. “Not just tribes. You got people from all over…every different color up here. There all down here supporting, standing for Standing Rock too,” he said. Thompson added that during his first trip he and others wanted show that Cherokee people also support the Sioux’s efforts against the Dakota Access Pipeline. “We want to bring more supplies for them because you know it’s getting winter time and they need more camping gear this time and that’s what we brought, a lot of camping gear,” he said. In addition to taking donated supplies, Thompson brought his own supplies – stickball sticks. “I brought my stickball sticks this time. Hoping to get a chance for the kids to see how we play social stickball games back home and get that experience with them up here,” he said. Cosby said not only is it important for he and other Cherokees to support other Native Americans, it’s also incumbent to save the Earth. “We’ve seen a large degree of man’s destruction of Earth simply for corporate profit, so it’s important to me that this (the pipeline) be stopped and that we not only stand behind our Sioux brothers and sisters but that we protect Mother Earth from beings that want to ravage it for profit,” he said. After traveling and enduring costs associated with his August trip, Cosby said that was to be his only trip to North Dakota. However that changed, he said, after seeing the continuing need of supplies and support for the Sioux and their efforts. “Although the travel to this location is quite a long ways, they ask for our support, they ask for divine intervention and we felt that it was needed that we come back and not only bring supplies for them to continue their fight, but to show our support as Cherokees to these people and let them know that we are there for them,” he said. Cosby also said it isn’t easy to put your life on hold and go on such a trip and that there were others who helped with donations who wanted to go but couldn’t. “I’m just blessed with the ability to arrange my work schedule to do this. I felt that it was needed that it was important,” he said. “It’s a terrific thing to be able to come up here and allow my friends to journey along with us on such a great adventure to actually see firsthand what’s going on here and appreciate the magnitude of this event that more than likely we’ll never see again in our lives.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/30/2016 02:15 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The OSIYO Men’s Shelter in Tahlequah is hosting an appreciation reception by the shelter board from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Oct. 1 at the shelter. It is located at 118 W. Keetoowah in Tahlequah. For more information regarding the shelter, email <a href="mailto: tahlequahmensshelter@gmail.com">tahlequahmensshelter@gmail.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/29/2016 04:00 PM
WASHINGTON – For the first time, one of the 18 treaties negotiated and signed during the Gold Rush between the United States and the American Indian nations in California, but secretly unratified by the U.S. Senate in 1852, went on display to the public on Sept. 22. The Treaty of Temecula, also known as Treaty K, was unveiled in the presence of the descendants of three of the Native nations affected by the Senate’s failure to ratify the agreement. Jeff Grubbe, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians chairman; Mark Macarro, Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians chairman; Sabrina Nakhjavanpour, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians treasurer; and Melonie Calderon, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Business Committee member watched as the treaty went on display. Treaty K is just one of the 18 treaties that was submitted to the U.S. Senate on June 1, 1852, by President Millard Fillmore. Unbeknownst to the Native nations’ signatories, the Senate rejected the treaties and ordered them to be held in secrecy for more than 50 years. Meanwhile, left undefended by U.S. Armed Forces, Native nations across California were overrun by white settlers and American Indians were subjected to violence at the hands of state and local militias. Considered illegal aliens on their own lands without state or federal legal recourse, it led to their ethnic cleansing. The American Indian population in California plunged from perhaps 150,000 to 30,000 between 1846 and 1870. The 1880 census records 16,277 American Indians in California – a 90 percent decline in their population since the onset of the Gold Rush. Grubbe read to the group quoting a Nov. 22, 1852, letter by California Indian Affairs Superintendent Edward F. Beale to U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Luke Lea: “The wretched remnant which escapes starvation on the one hand, and the relentless whites on the other, only do so to rot and die of a loathsome disease, the penalty of Indian association with frontier civilization…I have seen it, and seeing all this, I cannot help them. I know they starve; I know they perish by hundreds; I know that they are fading away with startling rapidity; but I cannot help them…They are not dangerous…It is a crying sin that our government, so wealthy and so powerful, should shut its eyes to the miserable fate of these rightful owners of the soil.” Macarro noted that Sept. 23 is American Indian Day in California. “It also happens to be the day on which the Pechanga Nation people were evicted in 1852. Seeing this treaty on display is both horrific as it shines daylight on the cheat and fraud that accompanied the sale of our land. But California Indian nations had treaties with the United States, and this is validation,” he said. Nakhjavanpour said there is much Native people have to do as a whole but they remain despite deplorable actions past and present. “What happened during the Gold Rush is different to what we see happening today at Standing Rock with oil,” she said. “But there are similarities in the quest for commodities near American Indian nation land. We have to keep fighting.” On loan from the National Archives and Records Administration through January 2017, including the anniversary date of the treaty on Jan. 5, Treaty K will be on display in the museum’s award-winning exhibition “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations,” which opened on Sept. 21, 2014, and will stay open through Spring 2020. The full text of the treaty is available on the Nation to Nation project website. “Consent is at the heart of the treaty relationship,” NMAI Director Kevin Gover said. “That is what this exhibition is all about. And it is not just about the past. It is about the present and future, too. Just imagine what the world would be were decisions are made bi-laterally. When both parties agree, good things result, both can thrive. When they are made unilaterally or when agreements are not kept, bad things happen.”
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Media Specialist – @cp_rgraham
09/28/2016 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Election Commission on Sept. 19 moved into its new building at 17763 S. Muskogee Ave., the former site of the Tribal Council House that was torn down in 2015. The new 3,500-square-foot location is west of the tribe’s Emergency Medical Services building, where Election Commissioner Martha Calico said the commission had been located since 2003. Calico said before 2003 the EC was located east of the Tribal Complex in what is now the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service building. CN Management Resources razed the former Tribal Council House on July 11, 2015, after it was determined to be structurally unsound. The tribe’s legislative branch was relocated to the Tribal Complex following the July 17, 2013, discovery of several mold species in the Tribal Council House. According to CN Communications, the estimated cost of the new facility was about $250,000, which included materials and sub-contractors used for the construction. CN Facilities Administrator Jimmy Hullinger, who oversaw the new building’s construction, said its design would help the EC better serve CN citizens. “The new building is a 3,500-square-foot building, and the layout is more accessible to the public,” Hullinger said. He added that the larger lobby would be more convenient to visitors, and because the EC is the building’s only occupant, security could be easier to maintain. He also said the new facility has a vault of “concrete construction with a metal ceiling” for storing ballots and other important items. EC Director Connie Parnell said she was happy the EC would no longer share space with other departments. “We will be completely separate from everyone. This is a better move and a better location because it best serves how elections are conducted,” she said. “We have security vaults. We have offices. We have a large conference room so we can handle all of our meetings, during elections time, processing of all the election absentees, tabulating. We have the room for all of our duties to make an election run very smoothly.” In a previous Cherokee Phoenix story, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said to accommodate the growing CN workforce it was necessary to build the new EC office. “The construction is a good choice and wise investment. By moving the Election Commission office into its own free-standing building, it also allows the Nation to look at ways to utilize the space vacated by the Election Commission for other purposes, including possibly for the Marshal Service,” he said. To contact the EC, call toll free at 1-800-353-2895 or 918-452-5899 or write to PO Box 1188, Tahlequah, OK 74465.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/26/2016 01:00 PM
SALLISAW, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials said they are moving forward with the purchase and acquisition of the historic home of the Cherokee syllabary inventor, Sequoyah. However, as of publication, CN officials had not announced a final deal. The Oklahoma Historical Society, a state agency, owns and operates Sequoyah’s Cabin near Sallisaw. The site is a Sequoyah County tourist attraction. “Sequoyah is one of our most well-known statesmen and historical figures, and his contributions to the Cherokee Nation are immeasurable,” CN Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin said in a Sept. 2 CN Communications release. “His invention of the Cherokee syllabary may be one of the single most important contributions to the advancement of the Cherokee people and Cherokee society. The Cherokee Nation is taking an important step by ensuring the preservation of Sequoyah’s homestead.” According to the release, the OHS has needed to divest itself of the property due to state budget cuts. According to a Sequoyah County Times report, it costs about $100,000 annually to maintain the cabin. “Over the past eight years, the state appropriation to the Oklahoma Historical Society has been cut by 40 percent,” OHS Executive Director Dr. Bob Blackburn said. “Fortunately for us and the legacy of Sequoyah, the Cherokee Nation is willing to assume ownership and keep the site open.” According to the CN release, Hoskin said it is “unfortunate that after 80 years, the state no longer has the resources to manage and maintain the property because the significance of Sequoyah’s homestead cannot be overstated.” Sequoyah was born in Tennessee around 1778. He began experimenting with an alphabet for the Cherokee language, and it was complete in the 1820s. The Cherokees were the first Indian tribe to develop a written alphabet, known as the Cherokee syllabary. Literacy rates among Cherokees soared within just a few years. Sequoyah was among the “Old Settlers” of the CN, who migrated to present-day Oklahoma and western Arkansas in approximately 1818, prior to the Trail of Tears. Built in1829, the one-room log cabin and more than 200 acres were acquired by the OHS in 1936. In 1965, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. According to the Sequoyah County times report, CN Natural Resources Director Gunter Gulager said the CN had paid $100,000 for the 171.54-acre property and that the property was expected to transfer to Cherokee Nation Business for management. However, according to a Sept. 6 email from CN Communications, the tribe was still in the process of buying the cabin and no deal had been finalized. According to the Sequoyah County Times, the state and tribe plan to work together to advertise and draw in tourists and that OHS officials said the money it makes from selling the cabin would be invested in other state-owned historic properties. “Our planned acquisition of the cabin is another example of the Cherokee Nation relieving the state of public use facilities that might otherwise be closed,” Hoskin said in the CN release. According to the release, in recent years the CN has assumed ownership of two Oklahoma welcome centers that still operate as welcome centers and now feature Cherokee merchandise, clothing and information on Cherokee attractions. The Cherokee Phoenix requested comment from CN officials regarding the cabin but did not receive a response as of publication.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/23/2016 02:00 PM
WASHINGTON – On Sept. 26, President Obama will host the 2016 White House Tribal Nations Conference at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. This will be the President’s eighth and final Tribal Nations Conference, providing tribal leaders from the 567 federally recognized tribes with the opportunity to interact directly with high-level federal government officials and members of the White House Council on Native American Affairs. Each tribe is invited to send one representative to the conference. This year’s conference will continue to build upon the President’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian Country and to improve the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives. The conference will be streamed live at www.whitehouse.gov/live.