TAHLEQUAH, Okla. -- Housing funds meant for the Cherokee Nation from the U.S. Department of Urban Development are currently "suspended" while HUD studies recent action by the tribe's Supreme Court that denied Cherokee Freedmen citizenship in the CN.
After having four years of citizenship and rights to benefits, about 2,800 descendants of former slaves held by CN citizens in the 1800s lost their appeal to remain citizens of the CN. On Aug. 22 the Supreme Court reversed a January 2011 lower court's ruling that voided a 2007 constitutional amendment that denied citizenship to descendants of former black slaves who do not have Indian blood.
The District Court had ruled in Nash v. CN Registrar that the amendment violated the 1866 Treaty between the CN and United States that gave Freedmen "the rights and privileges of other Cherokees."
When the CN attempted to draw Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act funds from HUD on Aug. 31 it was prevented from getting the $33 million in funds.
A statement from Deputy Assistant HUD Secretary Jereon Brown stated HUD has suspended housing fund disbursements to the CN "while we seek additional guidance on an unclear statute involving the Freedmen. Brown did not elaborate about the statute.
He added housing funding could be restored "once the issue is resolved."
"Housing and Urban Development is in the process of reviewing a statutory provision placed on the funding agreement with Cherokee Nation, which is related to a court case regarding non-Indian Freedmen citizenship. While reviewing, the agency has temporarily suspended disbursements to the tribe," said Acting Principal Chief Joe Crittenden. "Cherokee Nation currently has sufficient funding to carry it through a few months with no affect on HUD-related services or employment positions."
Crittenden added CN Attorney General Diane Hammons and the tribe's legal team are working "aggressively" to resolve the matter, including defending and resolving the ongoing litigation in Washington, D.C.
"Cherokee Nation is in compliance with the HUD provisions and is in weekly conversations with the local and regional HUD offices and has presented the tribe's legal arguments to them. We are confident that future federal funding will continue once the issues are resolved," Crittenden said.
In a Sept. 2 letter from tribal Attorney General Diane Hammons to HUD administrator Wayne Sims, Hammons wrote HUD based its action on denying the NAHASDA funds on an incorrect reading of Section 801 of the 2008 NAHASDA reauthorization act.
The Act, Hammons wrote, specifically targeted the CN and addressed concerns in Congress over a series of tribal court cases and an amendment to the CN Constitution dealing with the Freedmen. Section 801 of the Act required a 2007 injunction to remain in effect pending the outcome of the tribal court case, and it remained in effect until Aug. 22 when the Supreme Court made their ruling.
"The Cherokee Nation is entitled to NAHASDA funding because an injunction was effective during the pendency of litigation in the tribal court," Hammons wrote.
She added, the Act's legislative history and construction show that Congress intended for the CN to receive funding if that requirement was met, and Congress did not impose any requirement that the Freedmen prevail in the litigation.
"Accordingly, the Cherokee Nation is entitled to NAHASDA funding," Hammons wrote.
Other leaders in Washington, D.C., are also attempting to sway HUD.
In an Aug. 26 letter from Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Frank said he had "long been concerned with the rights of the Freedmen" and "efforts by some in the Cherokee leadership" to deprive them of their rights.
"I am informed...that recent actions by tribal leadership have resulted in revocation of the rights of Freedmen that were recently won," he said. "The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma receives funding from the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act of 1996 administered by your department...I do not believe that the federal government should continue to fund the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma if it is blatantly violating the rights of some of its members."
In his letter Frank also urged Donovan to investigate the "serious allegations" made by Cherokee Freedmen and their supporters and to "act appropriately" to prevent the CN from receiving funding for tribal housing if members of the tribe are having their rights denied.
Frank also wrote a similar letter to Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Larry Echo Hawk urging him to look into the CN/Cherokee Freedmen matter.