Oral arguments set in federal Freedmen case
BY STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
TULSA, Okla. – Oral arguments in a federal case regarding Cherokee Nation citizenship for descendants of black slaves once owned by CN citizens has been set for April 28 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
According to court records, Judge Thomas F. Hogan on Sept. 17 granted a joint motion by the CN defendants and Freedmen plaintiffs to sort out their longstanding dispute over tribal citizenship rights.
Hogan has set a Nov. 29 date for the CN to file its opening motion for partial summary judgment. Freedmen then have until Jan. 31 to file a response and a cross-motion for partial summary judgment.
The CN must then have a reply filed by Feb. 28 and then the Freedmen shall file their reply by March 28.
Oral arguments have been set for 10 a.m. on April 28 in Courtoom 25A in the District of Columbia court.
Hogan also ordered that all other matters in the case, including pending motions to dismiss, are stayed until such time as ordered by the court.
Hogan’s order comes after both parties on Sept. 13 filed a seven-page request to decide the main issue of whether the Freedmen deserve to have CN citizenship rights. The case has dragged on for more than a decade.
Freedmen have long argued that the Treaty of 1866, signed between the U.S. government and the Tahlequah-based CN, gave them and their descendants “all the rights of native Cherokees.” There are around 3,000 Freedmen descendants today.
“The parties to this action, in the interest of reaching a final resolution of this longstanding dispute, have agreed to jointly petition this court to resolve by summary judgment the core issue in dispute in this action — whether the freedmen possess a right to equal citizenship in the Cherokee Nation under the Treaty of 1866,” the joint filing explains.
“This is very important to us; this is our identity, who we are,” said Marilyn Vann, president of the Oklahoma City-based Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes. “These are our ancestors that came on the Trail of Tears, and to now have people say you’re not a part of us, get out, we feel outraged.
“We are looking forward to our day in court,” Vann said.
CN Attorney General Todd Hembree said on Sept. 16 that after “years of litigation and legal expenses, it appears that we will finally be able to ask a judge to decide the main issue of this case which is, ‘What, if anything, did the Treaty of 1866 grant the freedmen and their descendants?’”
While many white Americans owned black slaves until after the Civil War, so did some Cherokee citizens – but the practice generally ended with the 1866 treaty that afforded freed slaves the same rights as native Cherokees.
Leaders of the CN one of the largest and most influential American tribes, have been trying to change that policy by declaring that the descendants should not be considered CN citizens unless they can show proof of Indian blood.
In 2007, CN citizens voted to kick out descendants of Freedmen and other non-Indians. The dispute has been in and out of the courts ever since.
In this 2011 photo, Cherokee Freedmen descendants and their supporters gather in front of the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Muskogee, Okla., to protest their removal from the Cherokee Nation. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX