Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Feds and Cherokees Fall Out Over Whether Descendants of Indians' Slaves Have Tribal Status

I found this modern fall-out of 150-year-old problems interesting -- in part because it touches on the effect of the Civil War on Indian tribes, something which also comes into a book (Empire of the Summer Moon) which I just finished reading about the Comanche wars.
The nation's second-largest Indian tribe said on Tuesday that it would not be dictated to by the U.S. government over its move to banish 2,800 African Americans from its citizenship rolls.

"The Cherokee Nation will not be governed by the BIA," Joe Crittenden, the tribe's acting principal chief, said in a statement responding to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Crittenden, who leads the tribe until a new principal chief is elected, went on to complain about unnamed congressmen meddling in the tribe's self-governance.

The reaction follows a letter the tribe received on Monday from BIA Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk, who warned that the results of the September 24 Cherokee election for principal chief will not be recognized by the U.S. government if the ousted members, known to some as "Cherokee Freedmen," are not allowed to vote.

The dispute stems from the fact that some wealthy Cherokee owned black slaves who worked on their plantations in the South. By the 1830s, most of the tribe was forced to relocate to present-day Oklahoma, and many took their slaves with them. The so-called Freedmen are descendants of those slaves.

After the Civil War, in which the Cherokee fought for the South, a treaty was signed in 1866 guaranteeing tribal citizenship for the freed slaves. [Darwin: My understanding is that the Cherokee actually split and fought a civil war among themselves, with a minority supporting the Union and a majority supporting the Confederacy -- they didn't all support the Confederacy.]

The U.S. government said that the 1866 treaty between the Cherokee tribe and the U.S. government guaranteed that the slaves were tribal citizens, whether or not they had a Cherokee blood relation.

The African Americans lost their citizenship last month when the Cherokee Supreme Court voted to support the right of tribal members to change the tribe's constitution on citizenship matters.

The change meant that Cherokee Freedmen who could not prove they have a Cherokee blood relation were no longer citizens, making them ineligible to vote in tribal elections or receive benefits.

Besides pressure from the BIA to accept the 1866 Treaty as the law of the land, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is withholding a $33 million disbursement to the tribe over the Freedmen controversy.

Attorneys in a federal lawsuit in Washington are asking a judge to restore voting rights for the ousted Cherokee Freedmen in time for the September 24 tribal election for Principal Chief.


Kelly said...

The gov't says that they need to keep them as citizens because that's what the 1866 treaty says, eh? I'll bet the indians are laughing pretty hard the Uncle Sam now going on about how important it is to keep treaties.

Anonymous said...

Kelly has a solid point. It's always disheartening when people who have been horribly mistreated by greater powers then mistreat others, but it's hardly unusual. And the ability of tribes to define who belongs and who doesn't is fundamental to their self-determination.

If the government tries to cite that treaty in court, I hope the Indians point at them and laugh.


Darwin said...

Yeah, I would agree that the basic idea that the tribes are independent nations would mean that they can exclude citizens based on race if they want.

And of course, there's a certain irony to the US government insisting that tribes can't break treaties with it, when the US so often broke treaties with the tribes.

The flip side of that is that if the tribe wants to ignore the treaty in regards to citizenship I don't necessarily see why the Feds can't decide to ignore it in regards to the payments they make to the tribes. Generally when a treaty is thrown out, all the parts of it go.

Perhaps more humanely, perhaps they could simply recognize the tribe as splitting and dispense benefits to the Freedmen Cherokees and and the rest of the Cherokees separately.

Mostly, I just find the history playing out interesting. And the mirror of the Civil War fought between Confederate aligned and Union aligned tribes is an interesting and little known phenomenon.