Freedmen citizenship timeline goes back to 1866
The Freedmen citizenship issue dates back 140 years. After the American Civil War, on July 19, 1866, the Cherokee Nation signed a treaty with the U.S. government that gave "all the rights of native Cherokees" to freed black slaves residing within the CN.
This treaty made "necessary" changes in the Cherokee Constitution regarding citizenship. The amended constitution stated: "All native born Cherokees, all Indians, and whites legally members of the Nation by adoption, and all freedmen as well as free colored persons who were in the country at the commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months from the 19th of July, 1866, and their descendents, who reside within the limits of the Cherokee Nation, shall be taken and deemed to be citizens of the Cherokee Nation."
In 1896, Congress authorized the Dawes Commission to hear and determine the applications for all people, including Freedmen, who might apply for citizenship in the Indian Nations and to enroll the citizens. Cherokee citizens by blood were placed on the Dawes roll and Freedmen without Cherokee blood were placed on the Freedmen roll.
Freedmen retained citizenship and voting rights in the tribe until 1983 when they were not allowed to vote in a tribal election. They were also removed from the tribe's rolls by the tribal registrar after the Tribal Council passed an act requiring all Cherokee citizens to provide a Certificate Degree of Indian Blood card. Because the Dawes Rolls did not list blood degree for Freedmen citizens, this removed all Freedmen and their descendants from the rolls.
In 2001, the CN Supreme Court heard Riggs v. Ummerteskee and held that a 1983 law limiting citizenship in the Cherokee Nation to Cherokees, Shawnees and Delawares by blood was constitutional. Freedmen Bernice Riggs argued the law was unconstitutional because it excluded Freedmen.
In 2004, Lucy Allen, a Freedmen from Tulsa, filed a lawsuit against the Tribal Council, tribal registrar and registration committee in tribal court. She challenged the tribe's authority to strip citizenship from descendants of Dawes enrollees who are citizens based on the 1975 CN Constitution. On March 7, 2006, the Supreme Court ruled 2-1 for Allen.
The ruling stated: "The Cherokee citizenry has the ultimate authority to define tribal citizenship," but "when they adopted the 1975 Constitution it did not limit membership to people who possess Cherokee blood. Instead they extended membership to all the people who were citizens' of the Cherokee Nation as listed on the Dawes Commission Rolls." Freedmen have citizenship rights in the Cherokee Nation, the ruling further stated, based on the 1866 Treaty as well as the 1975 Constitution.
During the Tribal Council meeting on June 12, 2006, the council voted 13-2 to amend the constitution to require Indian blood for Cherokee citizenship, but did not approve a resolution calling for a special election.
Cherokee citizens circulated an initiative petition in June asking CN citizens to support an amendment to the constitution to require Cherokee citizens to have an Indian ancestor to be determined with a special election.