Freedmen continue fight for tribal citizenship
MUSKOGEE, Okla. – Descendants of slaves once owned by five Oklahoma tribes and now known as Freedmen met July 9 at the Martin Luther King Center to discuss ways to continue their fight for citizenship in their respective tribes.
Marilyn Vann, Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association president, said the group meets to encourage members to contact their congressional representatives, discuss happenings in their respective tribes and share information about tribal programs.
“We share a meal and give people updates on different things. A lot of focus is on the Cherokee Nation, but we also focus on the Creek Nation. We give people updates on what’s happening inside the Cherokee Nation and Washington, D.C., dealing with tribal affairs,” she said.
She said Cherokee Freedmen are waiting on Judge Thomas Hogan to rule on the merits of the Freedmen case Cherokee Nation v. Nash in the District of Columbia federal court, a case in which she’s a plaintiff.
“What the judge is going to be ruling on is where do the Freedmen get their rights to tribal membership in the Cherokee Nation. Was it from the 1866 Treaty or was the source the Cherokee Nation Constitution of 1839 that was amended in 1866? Also, was there a federal law such as the Act of 1906, which took away the Freedmen people’s tribal membership? Those are the two things the judge will decide,” Vann said. “It’s been two years and two months (since the case was heard).
We had hoped the honorable judge would make a decision, of course, in our favor, but so far he has not. I’m sure he has a weighty schedule, but we are hoping he will move on this sometime this year.”
Raymond Foreman, 71, of Porter, is also a Freedmen descendant awaiting the ruling. He’s also been waiting to get a CN citizenship card for about six years. He said his grandfather Jerry Foreman was a slave who lived in the Sequoyah County community of Redlands. He said Foreman received an enrollment number when the federal government sent the Dawes Commission to enroll Cherokees from 1900-06.
“We’ve done the paperwork (with CN Registration). Everything looks good, and we just want to know what the hold up is (with court case). I haven’t heard anything. That’s why I’m here today, to find out what’s going on,” he said. “I went to Registration and they advised that everything I had, they had, and it was all legit, and they are waiting to give us the cards and get it over with. They are waiting on the court cases, too.”
Foreman, who is retired from the Muskogee Police Department and Cherokee Casino Fort Gibson, said he doesn’t want much from the CN if he receives citizenship.
“As I get older I maybe just want a little medical and that’s it. I’ve made mine. Mine (retirement check) comes every month,” he said. “If it’s (citizenship) mine, I want it.”
He said he has six siblings also waiting to gain citizenship along with their children and grandchildren.
Among the approximate 30 attendees at the meeting was Ron Graham, who serves as the Muscogee (Creek) Indian Freedmen Band president. He said he went to gather information affecting Freedmen descendants and to “help in anyway.” Graham said he has information on his laptop pertaining to Freedmen people who are part of the Creek Nation and the other five tribes that include the Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw.
“I’ve been doing genealogy well over 30 years, so I’m very well-equipped to help folks find their lineage. I have much success doing that. I love helping people that way because I understand the tactics and procedures they (Dawes Commission) went by to get people enrolled,” he said.
When the Dawes Commission enrolled Freedmen for all five tribes, it did not list Indian blood quantum, and that’s the main problem right now, he said.
“If the Dawes Commission had listed their blood quantum on their census card when they were enrolled this problem (dispute over Freedmen citizenship) would have never occurred,” he said.
Graham said he’s counting on a favorable ruling in the Cherokee Nation v. Nash case and hopes it will benefit the Freedmen awaiting tribal citizenship.
“Hopefully the other tribes will follow suit on that (ruling). It still has a long ways to go,” he said.