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
Senior Reporter
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.
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.

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