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 – @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
06/24/2016 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation donated $75,000 to organizations that ensure school children get snacks and school supplies when they return to school this fall. In northeastern Oklahoma at least 20 organizations participate in backpack programs that send backpacks home with students who are in need of everything from school supplies to nutritious weekend snacks. The tribe donated the funds from its donations and charitable contributions budget. Tribal Councilors individually delivered the checks totaling $75,200 to the churches, schools and organizations in their areas. “We have a responsibility to our children, especially those in need, to ensure they have access to basic and essential items when they are away from structured activities like school and church,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Networking with these partners, organizations that have similar values and a mission to help kids, enables us all to do more, and that is critical if we hope to raise healthy and happy children in northeast Oklahoma. If we can address any insecurity a child has at home, whether it’s food or clothing or supplies, then we are helping build a better tomorrow.” The programs serve 3,643 students, with half of those students being CN citizens. Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said the tribe is able to help more families when developing healthy partnerships with organizations inside the 14-county jurisdiction. “By partnering with churches, schools and organizations inside the communities, we are able to make the greatest impact with our tribal dollars,” Byrd said. “These organizations know the needs of our young people in their respective communities, and I am proud that the Cherokee Nation can contribute to meeting those needs.” Organizations receiving funds are in Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Delaware, Mayes, Muskogee, Nowata, Rogers, Sequoyah and Washington counties. New Life Church in Stilwell received $15,000 to help. At the beginning of every school year, the church hosts a cookout and backpack giveaway night for parents and students in Adair County. The church also partners with four rural Adair County schools and uses the donation to provide nutritious weekend snacks to students every week during the school year. “We are so thankful to be able to partner with the Cherokee Nation and help students and parents in our area with necessary school supplies and nutritious snacks on the weekend,” said New Life Church Pastor Max Ford. “The tribe’s generosity is a godsend for our community, and we are more than happy to help pass that blessing on to those in need.” <strong>Receiving Donations</strong> Organization, County, Award New Life Church, Adair, $15,040 Hulbert Public Schools, Cherokee, $9,388.32 Tahlequah Public Schools, Cherokee, $3,689.94 Craig County Salvation Army, Craig, $1,121.49 Okay Public Schools, Delaware, $1,961.74 Choteau-Mazie Public Schools, Mayes, $781.04 First United Methodist Church Locust Grove, Mayes, $710.95 Boulevard Christian Church, Muskogee, $2,350 Chandler Road Church of Christ, Muskogee, $555.45 Eastern Heights Baptist Church, Muskogee, $1,516.82 First United Methodist Church Muskogee, Muskogee, $1,602.27 Grace Ministries Inc., Muskogee, $341.82 Warner Public Schools, Muskogee, $3,845.45 Boys & Girls Club of Nowata, Nowata, $6,118.14 Oologah United Methodist Church, Rogers, $791.58 Rogers County Salvation Army, Rogers, $14,248.42 Hillside Pentecostal Church, Sequoyah, $1,388.64 Lee’s Chapel Assembly of God, Sequoyah, $2,307.27 The BOD Church, Sequoyah, $1,132.27 Agape Mission of Bartlesville Inc., Washington, $6,308.39
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
06/23/2016 06:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – As the 2016 “Remember the Removal” cyclists prepared to finish the last few miles of their nearly 1,000-mile journey from Georgia to Oklahoma, some reflected on what it meant and what they learned. The youngest rider, Jack Cooper, 15, of the Birdtown Community in Cherokee, North Carolina, followed in his father’s and sister’s footsteps to ride the three-week trek through six states to Tahlequah. “I was always told it’s a challenge both mentally and physically, that there’s no words to describe it after you’ve done it. You have to go on the journey,” he said. He said he agrees with the assessment that people have to make the journey themselves to truly appreciate what Cherokee people endured during the forced removals in 1838-39. “It is amazing. Growing so much as a family with people you’ve never met, experiencing the heat and experiencing suffering and joy all at the same time, it’s amazing,” he said. Cooper said that during the ride he learned lifelong leadership skills and to cooperate with others. “I’ve grown so much as a person,” he said. Before the ride, Kelsey Girty, 22, of Warner, said she knew the journey would be physically challenging and that she would be tested as she rode through the territory her ancestors walked along the Trail of Tears’ Northern Route. But as she prepared to ride into Tahlequah to see family and friends, she said she found it tough to find words to describe her experiences. “Everyone says you have to see it, you have do it, to actually feel it,” she said. She said she has a deeper connection to the people who took the ride with her and to herself. She learned things she never knew about her culture and heritage by taking part in the trip, she said. Girty added that if someone wanting to make the journey were to ask her what is special about it she would tell them the unity and bonding among the cyclists is the most special. “Everyone just comes together. We’re all so different. None of our personalities are the same,” she said. “Everyone comes together as a family.” Marisa Cabe, of the Wolfetown Community in Cherokee, North Carolina, said she knew the ride was not only going to be physically difficult but “emotionally and spiritually” difficult, too. She said the ride’s physical and emotional demands didn’t match what she imagined. “The heat, the constant pedaling, it’s all been much more physically challenging than I ever could have imagined, “Cabe said. The 50-year-old had to “trailer up” or put her bicycle in the trailer and ride in the van on June 22, the day before the cyclists made it to Tahlequah because she overheated. “I didn’t want to. I cried a little bit when they told me I had to. I wanted to do what they (Cherokee ancestors) were able to do, and then I stopped to think not everybody walked. People had to be helped. I had to be helped… and that’s hard for me to accept, but I’m thankful that I had the people here to help me,” she said. An unexpected but pleasant surprise for Cabe was how close the cyclists became. She said the group likes to say they are not Cherokee Nation or Eastern Band but are “one tribe.” “We’re Cherokee. That’s all there is to it,” she said. “Whether the federal government recognizes it or not, we as people realize that we’re one tribe, one nation.” Cabe thanked the support staff that helped the cyclists along the way and her fellow cyclists who helped her finish the ride. “It’s just been an amazing journey, and I’m thankful that I did it,” she said
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/23/2016 02:00 PM
The Cherokee Phoenix recently followed the 2016 “Remember the Removal” cyclists for part of their trip from New Echota, Georgia, to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. From June 15 to June 23 we will feature video profiles of two cyclists daily. Today is Tosh Welch of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The ride is held annually to commemorate the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their Southeastern homelands during the winter of 1838-39. The bicycle ride originated more than 30 years ago as a leadership program that offered Cherokee students a glimpse of the hardships their ancestors faced while making the same trek on foot. Follow the cyclists’ journey at <a href="http://www.facebook.com/removal.ride" target="_blank">www.facebook.com/removal.ride</a> or with the Twitter hashtag #RememberTheRemoval.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
06/23/2016 12:00 PM
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A group hoping to put a casino legalization measure on the Arkansas ballot this fall says it has signed an agreement with Cherokee Nation Entertainment to operate one of the casinos. Arkansas Wins in 2016 announced Thursday the agreement with the Cherokee Nation group to operate a casino proposed in Washington County in northwest Arkansas. The tribe's gaming and hospitality company owns and operates nine casino properties in Oklahoma. Arkansas Wins is trying to gather the nearly 85,000 signatures from registered voters needed to place its proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Arkansas Wins says the project would not involve efforts to seek tribal land trust status. The ballot measure also proposes casinos in Boone and Miller counties. The group has until July 8 to submit its petitions.
BY STAFF REPORTS
06/23/2016 10:00 AM
The Cherokee Phoenix recently followed the 2016 “Remember the Removal” cyclists for part of their trip from New Echota, Georgia, to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. From June 15 to June 23 we will feature video profiles of two cyclists daily. Today is Kevin Jackson of the Cherokee Nation. The ride is held annually to commemorate the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their Southeastern homelands during the winter of 1838-39. The bicycle ride originated more than 30 years ago as a leadership program that offered Cherokee students a glimpse of the hardships their ancestors faced while making the same trek on foot. Follow the cyclists’ journey at <a href="http://www.facebook.com/removal.ride" target="_blank">www.facebook.com/removal.ride</a> or with the Twitter hashtag #RememberTheRemoval.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter – @cp_wchavez
06/22/2016 04:00 PM
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The 18 cyclists of the “Remember the Removal” ride each had their own ideas about the three-week ride and what they might experience. Now that’s it’s nearly over, some shared their thoughts about the journey through seven states. Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians rider Tosh Welch, of the Wolfetown Community in North Carolina, said he knew it would be difficult but he never expected such a strong bond would form between the EBCI and Cherokee Nation cyclists. “We just refer to ourselves as Cherokee now,” he said. “The weakest person can pick up the strongest person at the strangest time or the quietest person can tell the funniest joke, and that kind of gets us through our day.” Welch said he also didn’t realize there would be so many emotional moments, especially when the cyclists knew they were traveling where their ancestors are buried in unmarked graves or where their ancestors suffered while waiting to cross the Mississippi River. “Sometimes white people were kind enough or courteous enough to let them be buried in their cemeteries,” he said. “A lot of people are walking around with a card in their pocket and they can claim to be Cherokee, but I think until you connect with your history, you connect with your culture and the things that took place, which is what we’re doing here...it gives you a better perspective on what it means to carry that (Cherokee citizen) title with your name.” CN rider Stacy Leeds, of Muskogee, Oklahoma, said before the ride she thought the two groups would gel. “I think what has been true for me is that it’s almost like a family member or a partner or a spouse and you think, ‘I couldn’t love this person any more than I do right now,’ and then you spend more time with that person and you know that bond keeps growing and growing. That’s how I feel about the other riders,” she said. Along with strong bonds between the riders, Leeds also said she felt strong emotions visiting sites where Cherokees were held prisoner or walked and stopped for a time. “Nothing prepares you for how emotional and how spiritually impactful those places are going to be. At a few of those places you could literally feel the spirits of people. It was pretty powerful, and I don’t think anything can prepare you for that moment,” she said. “Being with that many Cherokees together at a place like that was pretty profound. I think that grew with each place.” As she was riding on June 18 to Springfield, she said she was thinking about her Cherokee ancestors and knew some of them had an idea about where they were going thanks to communication with family referred to as “Old Settlers” who had earlier moved to Indian Territory. “But to be on this journey and really not know what lies at the end and how that was going to play out has been on my mind a lot today,” she said. She said the Springfield ride was good for the group and the Oklahoma cyclists could feel they were getting close to home, but for her Cherokee ancestors “every day would have been more exhaustion and more dread from not knowing what lies ahead.” CN rider Nikki Lewis, of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, said she had mixed emotions as the ride winds down. “It’s been good. It’s been bad. I’ve been angry. It (emotions) is just like the hills (the cyclists rode), up and down, up and down,” she said. “Walking the actual trail they were on, that changed my whole perspective. I was like ‘wow.’ Hearing us walk was loud, but hundreds of them walking must have been loud with kids crying and not knowing where their next stop was going to be. “We know we’re going to get to stop. We know we’re going to get food. We know there’s going to be an end, but they didn’t know that,” she added. Hearing about what to expect on the ride from friends and his daughter Corlee, who rode the trek in 2015, helped EBCI rider Tom Hill, of the Yellowhill Community in North Carolina, but he said he now understands people have to experience it for themselves. “You can’t really explain it to somebody who hasn’t been on the ride, and I’m starting to feel that, especially the closeness we are creating here,” he said. “I think it’s important that people do this so that they understand these kinds of relationships can develop.” He said the bond the cyclists created is the ride’s most special aspect. As a therapist, he said he understands the historical trauma many tribal people suffer from, but he wants to see a change. “I want to walk away from the historical grief and trauma part where we say, ‘oh, poor me.’ We have to focus on the strength. The fact that these folks walked across this country to Oklahoma, that’s where we build from,” he said. “They didn’t know where they were going, but they created homes for their families, same for the families in western North Carolina. The folks that stayed there created homes for us. It’s those strengths that we need to build on.” Lewis said it’s difficult to explain the ride to those who haven’t made the journey and that they would have to experience it themselves to truly understand what it means and how it changes a person. “I can tell them everything I felt, and they might be like, ‘oh, that’s neat,’ but it’s not going to be the same without them doing it themselves. Whether it’s in car or you’re actually riding it (trail), it will change their whole mindset of really what our ancestors went through.”