UPDATE: Freedmen descendants have citizenship restored and may vote Sept. 24
Cherokee Freedmen descendants protested in front of the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Muskogee, Okla., on Sept. 2. They were protesting an Aug. 22 Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruling that voided their CN citizenship. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Freedmen who lost their CN citizenship last month are again recognized as citizens and will be able to vote in the special principal chief election Sept. 24 following an agreement yesterday between the Cherokee Nation and attorneys for Cherokee Freedmen descendants in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
Attorneys for the Freedmen filed an injunction on Sept. 2 in the U.S. District Court to regain Cherokee Freedmen rights, including voting rights. Following yesterday’s agreement, the court ordered
today that the 1,200 Freedmen registered to vote be allowed to vote in the Sept. 24 election “in the same manner as all other Cherokee citizens, without intimidation or harassment, and to have their votes counted on the same basis as all other Cherokee citizens.”
The court also ordered
all registered Cherokee Freedmen voters be notified by a letter sent via overnight mail no later than Sept. 21, 2011 that they are once again CN citizens, will be entitled to vote this weekend and on a walk-in basis at the Election Commission office in Tahlequah on at least two additional designated dates between Sept. 24 and Oct. 8 or by absentee ballot.
It is unclear at this point whether other registered Cherokee voters would also be allowed to vote during the two additional walk-in voting dates. The CN Election Commission is meeting this afternoon and would discuss the court’s order, said CNEC Chairman Susan Plumb.
Freedmen voters who requested an absentee ballot prior to Aug. 12 were also to receive by overnight courier, no later than Sept. 21, a non-provisional absentee ballot and notification that this ballot will be accepted and counted if received by Oct. 8, the order stated.
Furthermore, the court ordered
the CN to “secure, safeguard and refrain” from counting all ballots cast in the Sept. 24 special election until after Oct. 8.
Yesterday’s agreement and today’s order
benefits the approximately 2,800 Freedmen that lost their CN citizenship last month. President of the Descendants of Freedmen Association Marilyn Vann, one of the plaintiffs in the injunction, said the Freedmen did not receive all of the remedies they had asked for, but she is pleased with the results.
“The settlement was not perfect. Everything we requested in the preliminary injunction was not addressed in the proposed agreement, but we are pleased that the dis-enrolled Freedmen will be restored to citizenship status with full citizenship rights including the right to vote for principal chief,” she said.
On Aug. 22, 2011, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled in Nash v. CN Registrar that a March 2007 constitutional amendment that was approved by Cherokee voters and prevented Freedmen descendants without Indian blood from being CN citizens was valid and that the CN may deny Freedmen citizenship rights.
The Sept. 2 petition for the injunction stated certain Cherokee Freedmen, until recently, had been permitted to exercise their Cherokee citizenship rights and until March 2007 the CN Constitution, in accordance with the Treaty of 1866, granted full Cherokee citizenship rights to the Freedmen.
Acting Principal Chief Joe Crittenden, who attended yesterday’s hearing in Washington, D.C., said he has been concerned about federal funding been withheld from the CN, and he hoped the agreement would allow the recently withheld $33 million in Housing and Urban Development funds to be released.
“We have an agreement in principle that allows our election go forward on Saturday and extends the time for walk-in voting to Oct. 8 to allow Freedmen to fully participate. The main thing is to have an election that doesn’t violate tribal or federal law,” Crittenden said. “This order should re-establish the status quo as it existed during the June and July elections. We intend to continue working toward a final resolution to this issue.”
He added he has asked CN Attorney General Diane Hammons to submit the order
to the CN Supreme Court so that it may be recognized under tribal firstname.lastname@example.org • 918-207-3961