Chief Smith: Let courts decide on Cherokee Freedmen
Friday, November 2, 2007
Filed Under: Opinion
"Congresswoman Watson says the Treaty of 1866 gave citizenship in the Cherokee Nation to the Freedmen descendants. We disagree, and this is a primary question that is being decided in federal and tribal courts today -- a fact that is never mentioned in her piece.
We believe the Treaty of 1866 never granted citizenship to Freedmen and their descendants and that we have fully complied with our treaty obligations. We also believe that the Congress clarified that today's Freedmen descendants are not entitled to citizenship in the Nation by passing the Five Tribes Act in 1906. Regardless of what the
Congress believes, this issue is before the courts.
Even despite our disagreement, the Cherokee Nation supported a court order giving disenrolled Freedmen descendants critical social and health services and the right to vote until all litigation is resolved. As a Nation of laws that recognizes the fact that our March vote raises an equity issue for those who were disenrolled, we felt that reinstating them to citizenship while the courts do their work was the right thing to do.
Congresswoman Watson's bill retaliates against our people's will to define ourselves as an Indian nation -- the same sovereign right that 500 other tribes have. The bill calls for de facto termination of the Cherokee Nation and eliminates $300 million in federal health, housing and other vital services for the neediest Cherokees, including many of the 2,800 Freedmen descendants who were affected by the March vote.
The history of U.S.-Cherokee relations is paved with tragedy. How tragic it would be if, in this day and age, Congresswoman Watson's bill -- which is based on such faulty factual and historical assumptions -- were to create a modern Trail of Tears for the Cherokee Nation. Even more tragic is that such an action could come at the hands of a representative of one of our historic allies in the struggle for civil rights.
The Cherokee Nation will abide by the outcome of the ongoing litigation in the federal and tribal courts. Before rushing to judgment, we hope Congress will also let the courts decide this issue without political interference."