Cherokee Nation Registration officials give advice to applicants
Cherokee Nation Tribal Registration Office employee Tina Yazzie processes a request on Sept. 23 in Tahlequah. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – For prospective tribal citizens, the Cherokee Nation’s registrar has simple advice: be patient.
“We’re working as hard as we can,” Registrar Frankie Hargis said.
The Registration Office processes Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood requests, Dawes and tribal citizenship applications, and issues CDIB, citizenship and photo ID cards.
Basic criteria for citizenship requires proof from the applicant of a lineal ancestor listed on the Dawes Rolls, also known as the Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, taken between 1899 and 1906 in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.
“If their parents were enrolled, that makes it go fairly quickly,” Hargis said. “But if they’re a new enrollee, they just have to have all the documentation.”
Hargis, a former tribal councilor, has been on the job as registration boss since November. She said the first step toward CN citizenship is completing the proper paperwork, either online, by mail or at the office. The most common mistake, she said, is providing a birth certificate without state certification.
Registration supervisor Caleen Bolin noted that birth certificates must be signed by the proper state official, a complication that crops up more often from states such as Washington, Oregon, Texas and California.
“Those four are the worst ones,” she said. “That’s fine if it has a state seal, but it must be signed by the state registrar. It cannot be signed by the county registrar.”
There is no blood quantum restriction for citizens: citizenship includes a range between full-blood Cherokees and “one that’s one over eight thousand one hundred ninety-two,” Bolin said.
Of the tribe’s estimated 378,000 citizens, 142,201 reside within the jurisdiction, according to the Registration Office, which receives an average of 1,100 applications monthly.
“Probably the larger percentage comes from at-large,” Hargis said. “But we get lots from in district, as well.”
The office follows application guidelines set by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which reviews the findings.
“The BIA is the one we have the compact with,” Bolin said. “We process the applications on their behalf. They pay us to process them. The bureau processes the other four tribes. Cherokee Nation is the only one that process our own.”
Hargis said the waiting period varies for applicants depending on each case.
“We don’t like to give a timeline,” she said. “But at the moment, we’re processing as they come in. How long that takes if we have to send for more information, that just varies.”
Applications are also submitted for all ages. “You would think that it’s just newborns, but it’s not,” Bolin said. “It’s older citizens, as well, who are just now enrolling.”
Registration sees an influx of applications as school begins, Bolin said, pointing to one of several potential reasons as the federal Johnson-O’Malley Program, which authorizes contracts for the education of eligible Indian students.
“Then we have some 18-year-olds and 17-year-olds applying for college scholarships,” Bolin said.
For parents, Hargis recommends applying for a newborn’s citizenship “as soon as they get the child’s birth certificate.”
An estimated 20 of the monthly 1,100 requests are deemed ineligible, officials said.
“When we determine that someone is ineligible on a CDIB, it goes through the BIA before they are officially denied,” Hargis said. “If they get a denial on the citizenship from the BIA, they can appeal to the BIA, but they can also appeal to Cherokee Nation. They have 30 days to appeal.”
Adopted applicants may be required to provide additional documentation.
The registration page at cherokee.org includes a link to downloadable forms, answers to frequently asked questions, genealogy information and more. There is no registration fee.
Tribal citizenship stands “unless they withdraw it or relinquish it,” Hargis said.
The Registration Office has 30-plus employees. Bolin, a 23-year CN employee, has been with the office for five years.
“I really, truly enjoy working over here,” she said. “Coming over here, it makes me feel better about myself. We know where we’ve helped people.”
Hargis urges citizens to keep her office updated on changes of address. She added that new citizens are not automatically registered to vote in CN elections.
“You have to register with the Election Commission,” she said. “Receiving citizenship does not register you to vote. That’s something a lot of people don’t understand.”
Call 918-458-6980 for information. For the EC, call 918-458-5899.