Cherokee Freedmen descendant Anthony King, center, asks a question while Freedmen descendants Raymond Foreman, left, and William Lawrie listen during a July 14 meeting in Muskogee, Okla. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Freedmen anticipate winning citizenship rights

Cherokee Nation citizen David Cornsilk shares tribal registration information with Cherokee Freedmen descendants during a July 14 meeting in Muskogee, Okla. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX A Cherokee Freedmen descendant wears a T-shirt that honors his heritage during a July 14 meeting in Muskogee, Okla. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen David Cornsilk shares tribal registration information with Cherokee Freedmen descendants during a July 14 meeting in Muskogee, Okla. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Interim Executive Editor – @cp_wchavez
07/20/2012 08:28 AM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Area Cherokee Freedmen descendants gathered July 14 at the First Missionary Baptist Church to discuss the latest development in their fight for Cherokee Nation citizenship, saying justice would soon be served on their behalf.

On July 2, the Department of Interior filed a counterclaim against the Nation to obtain a declaratory judgment that the 1866 Treaty between the CN and United States provides Freedmen descendants with certain rights and privileges, including tribal citizenship.

The counterclaim is now part of a lawsuit filed in 2009 by the CN against five Freedmen and the Interior in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma in Tulsa. No hearing dates have been set for the suit or the counterclaim.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been waiting for justice to be served for the Cherokee Freedmen,” said Kathy Washington, one of the Freedmen defendants in the case.

She said many of her ancestors are on “all the Cherokee rolls” and her great-great-great-great grandfather was a by-blood Cherokee named Mose Mackey.

“We come from a long line of Cherokee history and to be told that our history no longer matters, it really does hurt. It deeply hurts,” she said. “We came across the Trail (of Tears) and suffered along with the Cherokee and helped build the Nation.”

A Sept. 2, 2011, injunction from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia allows Washington and approximately 2,800 other Freedmen to have CN citizenship while the case is pending.

Washington said she’s praying that soon other Freedmen would be able to enroll in the CN, too.

CN citizen David Cornsilk, a supporter of Freedmen citizenship, spoke to about 50 Freedmen who attended the July 14 meeting. He said he believes with the Interior’s counterclaim Freedmen are “close” to victory and the CN would soon start processing Freedmen applications that have been in the Registrar’s Office since March 2007.

On March 3, 2007, CN voters amended the tribe’s constitution requiring a citizen to have an ancestor with Indian blood on the Dawes Roll.

“I’m not trying to speak for the chief (Bill John Baker)…it just makes sense to me that if people have been denied the ability to be registered in the tribe for as long as you folks have, they need to take special steps to go ahead and get those that have been sitting there waiting through the process,” he said.

Cornsilk walked Freedmen through the registration process and provided tips for getting citizenship applications processed with minimal delays.

Freedmen are basing their rights to CN citizenship on the 1866 Treaty, which was signed after the Civil War. The treaty dictated terms to the CN because it allied with the Confederacy.

In support of its countersuit, the Interior alleges Article IX of the treaty provided, and the CN agrees, that all Freedmen “who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owner or by law, as well as all free colored persons who were in the country at the commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months, and their descendants, shall have all the rights of native Cherokee…” Also in November 1866, the CN amended its constitution to comply with treaty.

The Interior is also asking the court to rule that the treaty provided Freedmen and their descendants with “all the rights of native Cherokees,” including the right to citizenship; that the Five Tribes Act and other statutes did not repeal the 1866 Treaty; and that the March 3, 2007, Cherokee constitutional amendment is “inconsistent with the treaty.”

In May, CN Attorney General Todd Hembree filed for a declaratory judgment against the Interior, asserting the treaty “did not guarantee to Freedmen and their descendants eternal, unimpeachable rights to citizenship within the Cherokee Nation.” Additionally, Hembree’s complaint seeks a judgment declaring that the treaty “does not bestow upon…Freedmen a right to citizenship within the Cherokee Nation that cannot be altered by the Cherokee Constitution.”

Hembree said he looks forward to having “all interested parties in the same courtroom and getting a definitive resolution to this matter.”

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 STAFF REPORTS
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TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Jacob Tanner, Sequoyah High School assistant baseball and softball coach, died on April 28 at age 61. “We are deeply saddened to unexpectedly lose such a valued and respected member of our Sequoyah High School family,” Cherokee Nation Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin said. “Coach Tanner was a great mentor, teacher and coach for our students. Today, our thoughts and prayers are with his family.” Tanner, known for always smiling, served as the assistant baseball and fast-pitch softball coach and science teacher at Sequoyah since 2006. He also sponsored the robotics program at Sequoyah. “Coach Tanner was very well liked and respected by students, staff and faculty. His passing is a great loss for our Sequoyah family, and we will miss him greatly. Right now, our thoughts and prayers are with his family, players, students, colleagues and all who will be grieving this loss,” Sequoyah Athletic Director Marcus Crittenden said. Tanner served more than 35 years in education, including his time at Sequoyah. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. on May 4 in The Place Where They Play gym.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/28/2016 10:00 AM
OCHELATA, Okla. –Tribal Councilor Dick Lay will host a community meeting from noon to 1:30 p.m. on April 30 at the Cooweescoowee Clinic. A meal will be served at noon, and officials with several CN departments will be present to explain the services they provide. For more information, call 918-822-2981.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
04/27/2016 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – A sample of an Oklahoma prison’s drinking water had more than 12 times the allowable amount of lead when it was tested last year – an amount so high that officials question whether it could really be that bad or if the test could have been misleading. The sample taken from the Charles E. Johnson Correctional Center in Alva was unusually high, but it came from one of 30 Oklahoma water systems that have been found to have lead levels that exceeded the federally allowable limit between Jan. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2015, according to an Associated Press analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data. They were among nearly 1,400 water systems throughout the country that registered excessive lead levels in that time, the analysis showed. The ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan, where residents have been without tap water for months, has highlighted how lead-tainted water can poison children. Even low levels have been shown to affect IQ, the ability to pay attention and academic achievement. Children age 6 and under and pregnant women – whose bones pass along stored lead to infants – are considered the most vulnerable to lead, which can also damage brains, kidneys and production of red blood cells that supply oxygen. No amount of lead exposure is considered safe, but the federal government requires all water systems to maintain lead levels below 15 parts per billion in drinking water. According to a USA Today analysis of the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Information System database, three water supplies within the Cherokee Nation had levels higher than 15 ppb: Oklahoma Ordnance Works Authority in Mayes County at 21.4 ppb, LRED (Woodhaven) in Cherokee County at 17.5 ppb and Skelly School in Adair County at 15.5 ppb to 27 ppb. Cannon MHP’s water supply in McIntosh County had a level of 18.6 ppb, according to the analysis. Part of the county falls within the tribe’s jurisdiction. The Alva prison’s sample had 182 ppb. Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terri Watkins said authorities have reason to doubt whether the reported lead levels were accurate. “That facility was built in the early ‘90s – there are no lead pipes,” Watkins said. “The water is all purchased from the city of Alva, and the city of Alva water tested fine. There was only one location inside the prison that tested high.” Watkins said the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has scheduled another test of the prison’s water system, but she didn’t know the exact date. When more than 10 percent of tap water samples in a local system contain lead levels of at least 15 ppb, the state steps in to review the water system’s treatment for corrosive properties and update the sampling schedule as necessary. In a letter sent on March 31, employees of the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Talihina were informed that drinking water from the facility tested in 2014 may have been contaminated with high levels of lead. Authorities tested a sample at 97 ppb, which is more than six times the permissible level. “Absolutely, we’re concerned, and that’s why we sent out the letter to warn everybody,” said Shane Faulkner, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. “There’s never been any type of people reporting being sick or not feeling well from the water. We’ve had nothing like that. So while we are showing precaution, it hasn’t really turned into a problem for us.” The health effects of lead poisoning are often only apparent months or years after exposure. Although lead exposure is most harmful for children, adults can experience serious health problems after sustained exposure to lead. For now, veterans center employees are not being told to avoid drinking the water unless they have a severely compromised immune system, Faulkner said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/27/2016 12:00 PM
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BY STAFF REPORTS
04/26/2016 03:15 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to courthouse officials, the Cherokee Courthouse will be closed on April 27-28 for building maintenance. “We will be open on Friday for normal business hours,” officials said. The courthouse is located at 101 S. Muskogee Ave. For more information, call 918-458-9440.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
04/25/2016 03:30 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Obama administration asked the Supreme Court on April 19 to uphold a federal law aimed at people who have been convicted of repeated acts of domestic violence on Indian lands. The case argued at the high court tests whether the law and its stiff prison terms can be used against defendants who did not have lawyers in earlier domestic violence convictions in tribal courts. The U.S. appeals court in San Francisco threw out a 46-month federal prison term for defendant Michael Bryant Jr. because his earlier domestic violence convictions were handled without a lawyer in tribal courts on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. Several justices seemed skeptical of the argument of Bryant's lawyer, Steven Babcock. Bryant never challenged his earlier convictions or prison sentences of up to a year. Congress has put limits on prison terms imposed by tribal courts. "So if it's a valid conviction, why can't you use it?" Justice Stephen Breyer asked. Babcock said the use of the earlier convictions in prosecuting Bryant on new charges violated his constitutional right to a lawyer. The Sixth Amendment guarantees an attorney for criminal defendants in state and federal courts. Under the Indian Civil Rights Act, defendants have the right to hire their own attorneys in tribal court but are not guaranteed that one will be retained by the court for them. Justice Department lawyer Elizabeth Prelogar said Congress, in 2005, provided for prosecutions in federal court and lengthier penalties for repeat offenders "in response to the epidemic of domestic violence in Indian Country." Bryant has more than 100 tribal court convictions on his record, including five domestic violence convictions between 1997 and 2007, the government said. In 1999, he attempted to strangle his live-in girlfriend and hit her over the head with a beer bottle, the government said. In 2007, Bryant beat up his girlfriend and kneed her in the face, breaking her nose, the government said. In 2011, federal agents arrested him under the law at issue on charges he beat two women in the span of several months. Prelogar said the appeals court was wrong to rule in favor of defendants like Bryant "who have abused and battered their intimate partners again and again." A decision in U.S. v. Bryant, 15-420, is expected by late June.