AG provides updates on Freedmen courts cases
BY WILL CHAVEZ Senior Reporter TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Attorney General Todd Hembree told the Tribal Council’s Rules Committee on July 26 that there has been increased activity regarding two cases regarding Cherokee Nation citizenship for Freedmen descendants. Regarding Cherokee Nation v. Nash, which is awaiting a hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma in Tulsa, Hembree said the tribe would file motions on Aug. 6 to dismiss counterclaims filed by the Department of Interior on July 2. The DOI seeks to obtain a declaratory judgment that the 1866 Treaty “provided and continues to provide” the descendants of Freedmen with certain rights and privileges, including eligibility for CN citizenship. Hembree said part of the Nation’s defense would be based on sovereign immunity. “It is our position that, although we filed the case in the northern district, that we did not waive the immunity of the tribe. We merely asked for declaratory judgment as to what rights, if any, individuals have under the Treaty of 1866, so therefore we will be asking to dismiss those counterclaims filed by the Nash plaintiffs,” he said. Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno wrote in the DOI counterclaim that the Nation’s claim against the DOI “fails for lack of a waiver of the United States’ sovereign immunity.” Hembree said a joint status conference, which is a pre-trial meeting of attorneys before a judge, for CN v. Nash is set for Aug. 10. CN v. Nash is the only remaining lawsuit pending in court that deals with Freedmen citizenship. It was filed in 2009 against five Cherokee Freedmen and the Interior in Tulsa and eventually was transferred to Washington, D.C. In September 2011, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., dismissed another Freedmen lawsuit – Vann et al v. Salazar – and transferred CN v. Nash back to the federal court in Tulsa. Hembree said the CN has filed a response appellate brief in the Washington, D.C., circuit court in response to the Vann plaintiffs, who are appealing last year’s dismissal of Vann v. Salazar. Oral arguments will be heard for the appeal on Oct. 18. Hembree said the increased activity in the two cases could soon lead to a final decision regarding Freedmen citizenship in the tribe.