Cherokee Freedmen urged to vote in CN election
Marilyn Vann, president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, speaks March 9 at the Martin Luther King Community Center in Muskogee. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen and Freedman descendant Antonio Martinez, of Mannford, asks a question March 9 during a meeting in Muskogee. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
MUSKOGEE – Cherokee Freedmen who gathered March 9 at the Martin Luther King Community Center were urged to have their voices heard in the Cherokee Nation’s June 1 general election.
“People are concerned about the election because there are some people who try to use the Freedmen to gain power,” Marilyn Vann, Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes president, said. “We don’t plan to be used and abused.”
During the informational meeting, attendees heard from a handful of election candidates and were updated on issues related to Freedmen rights.
Vann said Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes formed in 2002 “to fight for the rights of the freedmen.”
“The Freedmen had been thrown out,” she said. “It was a very poor status. At that time, there was not a lot of organized effort to do something about it.”
The deadline to register to vote in the general election is March 29. Several of the 50 Freedmen in attendance filled out voter registration paperwork.
Cherokee Freedmen are descendants of former Cherokee-owned slaves.
In 1971, “blue cards” or citizenship cards were issued to CN citizens, including Freedmen, who voted in the 1971, 1975 and 1979 tribal elections. However, in 1983, Freedmen were not allowed to vote. Letters were sent informing them their citizenship had been cancelled due to the tribe requiring citizens to provide a Certificate Degree of Indian Blood card. The Tribal Council passed an act requiring all CN citizens to provide a CDIB card based on the Dawes Rolls for their degree of blood or their ancestor’s degree of blood. Since the Dawes Rolls did not list a blood degree for Freedmen, they and their descendants were removed from the rolls.
At the time, the Bureau of Indian Affairs emphasized that the CN Constitution and the 1866 Treaty granted citizenship to Freedmen and their descendants, and that Freedmen should be allowed to vote.
In 2006, the CN Supreme Court ruled that Freedmen descendants were entitled to enroll in the CN. But in 2007, CN voters amended the CN Constitution to limit citizenship to people who were Indian “by blood,” which removed eligibility for citizenship from Freedmen and intermarried whites.
Ten years later after additional legal wrangling, a federal judge ruled in favor of Cherokee Freedmen rights to citizenship. U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan’s ruling stated that, “In accordance with Article 9 of the 1866 Treaty, the Cherokee Freedmen have a present right to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation that is coextensive with the rights of Native Cherokees.”
On Sept. 1, 2017, the tribe’s Supreme Court chief justice ordered CN Registration to begin processing citizenship applications of eligible Freedmen descendants.