TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Feb. 22 that the language “by blood” is void, and should be removed from the tribe’s laws, including provisions within the Constitution. 

The decision was in response to the 2017 federal Cherokee Nation v. Nash case that determined Freedmen citizens have full rights as CN citizens, including the right to run for elected office, based on the Treaty of 1866. 

Attorney General Sara Hill recently requested that the Supreme Court issue an order to close the issue by striking the “by blood” references in the Constitution, based on the 2017 federal ruling. 

“The federal court and Cherokee Nation Supreme Court concluded in 2017 that Cherokee Nation is bound by the Treaty of 1866 to recognize descendants of Cherokee Freedmen as full citizens. Cherokee Nation has abided by those court orders and will continue to do so,” Hill said. “Provisions in Cherokee Nation’s Constitution and laws that deny descendants of Freedmen all the rights and obligations of Cherokee citizenship violate our 155-year-old treaty obligations and are void. Cherokee citizens of Freedmen descent are simply this: Cherokee citizens.” 

The Supreme Court on Feb. 22 granted Hill’s motion.

“Today’s unanimous opinion in SC-2017-07 holds that the words by blood are void, were never valid from inception, and must be removed wherever found throughout our tribal law when said words are used in reference to the Dawes Rolls. In doing so, the Court recognizes the importance of the 1866 Treaty for purposes of our nation’s prospective sovereignty and the underpinnings of citizenship,” the Supreme Court order states.

In 2007, Cherokee voters approved a constitutional amendment stating that all citizens had to have Indian blood, and included by-blood Cherokee, Delaware and Shawnee citizens. That amendment was ruled unconstitutional in 2017 by the tribe’s Supreme Court following the federal ruling. However, the “by blood” wording remains in the CN Constitution.

The CN has about 8,500 enrolled citizens of Freedmen descent. 

“Cherokee Nation is stronger when we move forward as citizens together and on an equal basis under the law. Today’s decision in the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court reaffirms previous decisions by the court on the issue of equality,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “More importantly, the court has acknowledged, in the strongest terms, our ancestors’ commitment to equality 155 years ago in the Treaty of 1866. My hope is that we all share in that same commitment going forward.” 

The Supreme Court on Feb. 22 also denied a motion to intervene in the case filed by Tribal Councilors Wes Nofire, Julia Coates and Harley Buzzard, as well as a similar motion filed by more than a dozen CN citizens.

According to the order, the court noted that by resolution, the Tribal Council in 2009 recognized “a federal ruling would be binding upon both parties to the Treaty of 1866.”

The court also states that none of the proposed citizen intervenors “could show standing to allow them to enter in this matter.”

“Specifically, this Court held ‘the Movants are individual Cherokee Citizens who disagree with the outcome of the federal case and disagree with the way the Nation and Attorney General’s office handled the case,’” the ruling states.

The court also said that none of the movants have suffered an injury in fact.

“A Cherokee citizen must show that they will suffer an individualized harm by a decision determining that Freedmen individuals are entitled to citizenship and all the rights said citizenship includes to properly intervene. Present year Movants have not met their burden,” the ruling states.

As for the three councilors, the ruling states that being a current legislator “does not confer standing and that the court has previously held that “members of the legislative branch must demonstrate they have standing before they can proceed in litigation.”

“Members of Tribal Council, like private Cherokee citizens, must demonstrate a specific particularized harm,” the ruling states. “Here, the Councilors only alleged potential harm is that they ‘have great interest in upholding their oath of office of the Constitution and laws which may apply.’ While this statement is undoubtedly true, it still does not allege any specific injury to the Councilors.”

The court also denied the councilors’ motion to file an amicus brief for failure to follow the court’s rules.

The Supreme Court’s order can be found at https://www.cherokeecourts.org/Supreme-Court/SC-2017-07-In-Re-Effect-of-Cherokee-Nation-v-Nash-and-Vann-v-Zinke.