TAHLEQUAH -- Less than day into the candidate filing period for the June 5 general election, an eligibility complaint was filed over a Cherokee Freedmen descendant who declared her candidacy for the Tribal Council's open At-Large seat.
The "complaint of election code violations," lodged by Cherokee Nation citizen Robin Mayes, of Texas, asks the Election Commission to disqualify Marilyn Vann, president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, who filed Feb. 1.
"Mayes stipulates that Vann likely meets all requirements except one," the complaint states, "she is not Cherokee by blood as required by the Constitution."
EC officials said Mayes' complaint was filed with their office and with Vann "after she filed."
The complaint, along with previous CN Supreme Court and U.S. District Court opinions related to Freedmen, was forwarded to the EC's attorney, Harvey Chaffin, said EC Administrator Marcus Fears.
An Aug. 30, 2017, decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia stated Freedmen descendants were eligible for CN citizenship based upon the Treaty of 1866 between the U.S. and CN governments. Article 9 of the treaty states that qualifying Freedmen have "all the rights of native Cherokees."
A CN Supreme Court order also states that Freedmen descendants, upon registration as CN citizens, shall have all the rights and duties of any other native Cherokee, including the right to run for office.
Mayes' complaint states that Vann "has been led to believe she is eligible to run for elected office by court case SC 17-07, in which Justice John C. Garrett states Freedmen shall have all rights by Cherokee blood ... 'including the right to run for office.'"
"The courts of the Cherokee Nation are wholly without authority to nullify any portion of the constitution that may conflict with federal law," the complaint states. "The Cherokee people voted in 2003 to remove from their constitution language granting over-site of the constitution by the federal government."
Cherokee Freedmen are descendants of former Cherokee-owned slaves.
Per a requirement established in 2019, in order to file the complaint, Mayes had to register as a candidate for the At-Large seat.
In a statement, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. called Mayes' challenge of Vann's legal right to run for tribal office "offensive."
"Both the federal court and Cherokee Nation's Supreme Court held that all Cherokee Freedmen descendants are equal, and full citizens under the law and our tribe is a better nation for having embraced full and equal citizenship of freedmen descendants, including the right to seek public office," Hoskin said. "The anti-Freedmen proponents of this lawsuit, if successful, would force Cherokee citizens of Freedmen descent to essentially start over in their effort to secure civil rights in the Cherokee Nation. Those efforts, which are completely contrary to settled Cherokee law, must not succeed."
Others who filed to run for the seat, as of Feb. 2, were Johnny Jack Kidwell and Matthew Benjamin Scrapper.
The incumbent, Mary Baker Shaw, announced on Jan. 29 that she would not run for re-election, "a tough decision because it's hard to walk away from a job you love."
"The at-large tribal council member's role is not one to be taken lightly," she stated on Facebook, "and whoever holds the honor of this office must always remember that they represent the largest and most diverse constituency in our tribe."
The general election will be held on June 5. If needed, a runoff election will be held July 24.