Opinion                                                   Cherokee Phoenix  April 2006       33

Citizen  views  fall  on  bothsides  of the Freedmen issue

By Chad Smith
Principal Chief


Background

  
Recently, the Judicial Appeals
Tribunal (JAT), the Cherokee
Nation’s Supreme Court,
held in the case of Lucy
Allen v. Cherokee Nation
Tribal Council
that a 1983
Cherokee Nation law
that limited citizenship in the
Cherokee Nation to
Cherokees, Shawnees and
Delawares by blood was
unconstitutional because it
excluded Freedmen. The
JAT considered this same
issue in 2001 in the case of
Riggs v. Ummerteskee,
and at that time the JAT
held that the law was
constitutional. Freedmen
were former slaves of
Cherokees by blood and
were emancipated and
given Cherokee Nation
citizenship by an 1866
amendment to our 1839
Constitution after the
American Civil War.

  In the case of Lucy Allen,
the JAT reversed itself by
ruling that Article III of our
1975 Constitution was not
clear enough when
Cherokees voted on the
constitution to exclude
the Freedmen.

  Article III provided that
Cherokee Nation citizens
were descendants of the
Dawes Rolls,including
Shawnees and Delawares.
The 1975 Constitution
was adopted by a


Cherokee vote ratio
margin of more than 6 to 1.
Although the interpretation
of Article III is controversial
as to whether it excluded 
Freedmen or not, it is
very clear that the
determination of who may or
may not become a citizen is a
question reserved for
Cherokee voters.

  As Chief of the Cherokee
Nation, citizens come to me
daily to tell me how they feel
about government policies
and programs. The same is
 true of the Freedmen issue;
our citizens have let me
 know their views on the
issue of Freedmen citizenship,
and I am duty bound to listen
and represent these citizens
by providing them with
information on how they
can work within our
government to make their
voices heard. Below is a
synopsis of some of our
citizens’ views.

 Some Cherokees Believe
an Indian Tribe’s Citizens
Should be Indians

   Some Cherokees, including
 those who wrote the 1975
Constitution, believe that
Cherokee voters understood
that a vote to approve the
1975 Constitution would
exclude Freedmen from
citizenship. Many of those
voting to exclude the
Freedmen believe that
an Indian nation should
be composed of Indians,
that Freedmen were


compensated with allotments,
unlike freed slaves in the
South after the American
Civil War. These Cherokees
believe the Freedmen did not
help during the last 100
hundred years to rebuild
the Cherokee Nation
and should not at this late
date reap any benefits that
Cherokees have earned.

Some Cherokees Believe
the Cherokee Nation
Should be a Nation
of Citizens Regardless
 of Race

  Others believe the
Cherokee Nation should
be an Indian republic,as it
was before Oklahoma
statehood, when it had
seven million acres of
exclusive land and was
composed of five
cultural/ethnic groups,
including Cherokees
by blood, Delawares by
blood, Shawnees by
blood, intermarried whites
and Freedmen. These
people believe this historic
citizenship should be
continued into the future.

 Some Seek a Political
Benefit

   Of course, there is another
class of people who see some
political benefit in exclusion or
 inclusion of the Freedmen.

Since 1839, There Has
Been Only One Cherokee
Nation

  Regardless of one’s point
of view, the Lucy Allen
case reinforces the principle
that the constitutional
government of the Cherokee
Nation is the same
constitutional government
formed in 1839.It properly
destroys the falsehood that
there is a new Cherokee
Nation of Oklahoma created
 in 1975 and an older
Cherokee Nation
with a constitution dated
1839. There is only one
constitutional government
of the Cherokee people since
1839 and that simply is
Cherokee Nation. The claim
of Freedmen citizenship
goes back to the 1866
amendment to the 1839
Cherokee Nation Constitution.

The other thing that is clear is
that the Cherokee Nation
Constitution is not based on
race. People of many
different ethnic backgrounds,
African Americans, white
Americans and Hispanic
Americans, have
Cherokee ancestors on the
Dawes Roll; and




they are unquestionably
entitled to Cherokee Nation
citizenship. However,
someone will undoubtedly
play the race card in this
debate. The issue at hand
is what classes of people
should be citizens of the
Cherokee Nation and
who should makethat
decision, the courts
or the Cherokee people
themselves.

Who Should Decide
Citizenship?

To put the Lucy Allen
case in perspective, the
court acknowledged that
Cherokee citizens may
decide who are entitled
to citizenship. Many
Cherokees believed that
issue was settled in 1975
with the passage of the
Constitution and the
exclusion of Freedmen.
By a 2 to 1 vote, three
 people essentially changed
the last 30 years of Cherokee
Nation governance. The court
reversed itself and changed
the way the Cherokee
Constitution was interpreted.

The process to decide
 the issue of Freedmen
citizenship is a constitutional
amendment at the polls.
The constitutional question to
determine citizenship and
especially whether to exclude
Freedmen and intermarried
whites  may be placed on the
next general election ballot by
a referendum petition or by a
constitutional question
authorized by resolution
of the Council. Even the
Council is divided on this
question. Bill John Baker,
Joe Crittenden, Chuck
 Hoskins, David Thornton,
Melvina Shotpouch and
Johnny Keener all voted
several months ago to
prohibit the Cherokee
Nation from contesting a
federal lawsuit brought by
Freedmen to gain
citizenship.

  Although many disagree
and some agree with the
JAT decision to include
Freedmen as citizens, I
believe everyone
understands that it is
a question specifically
reserve to the Cherokee
people. Since the JAT
ruled the question was
not resolved in 1975, I
believe the Cherokee
people should answer
the question once and
for all of who should be
entitled to Cherokee
citizenship.