5-12-08 Are Blacks Being Victimized Twice by the Cherokee? By Arica L. Coleman
Ms. Coleman is Assistant Professor of Black American Studies at the University of Delaware.
In 1983, the Cherokee nation revised its constitution, stripping the Cherokee Freedmen, descendants of former Cherokee slaves, of their voting rights and citizenship status. According to the tribal election council, the Freedmen are not Cherokee “by blood” and thus are not “real” Cherokees. To the chagrin of many tribal members, on March 7, 2006, in a 2-1 decision, the Cherokee Supreme Court reversed the earlier decision calling the expulsion of the Freedmen unconstitutional, therefore, reinstating them into the tribe.
The Cherokee nation rejected the CSC’s verdict and called for a special election to settle the question once and for all. On March 3, 2007, Cherokee tribal members decided overwhelmingly by a vote of 70 percent to expel the Freedmen. Consequently, on June 21, 2007, the Congressional Black Caucus called on Congress to withhold funding from the Cherokee nation until such time that the Freedmen are fully restored.
The Cherokee nation has an annual budget of $300 million of which 80 percent is derived from federal aid. Withholding such aid would no doubt have a detrimental effect on the tribe. (OP: Wouldn't eliminating the Freedmen have a detrimental effect on THEM?) The measure passed the House. The CBC is now pressuring the Senate to do the same.
In response to the CBC’s activism on behalf of the Freedmen, Tim Giago published an article on the Huffington Post entitled, “Congressional Black Caucus Attacks Sovereign Status of Indian Nations.” Giago asserted that such activism is an assault upon tribal sovereignty. (Just as we, the U.S. attacked the sovereignty of South Africa)
Nevertheless, positing the CBC’s call for sanctions against the Cherokee nation as an “attack” on tribal sovereignty ignores over two centuries of Black – Cherokee relations, and the current issue which is not tribal sovereignty, but rather human rights. As a means of "civilizing" American Indians, Southern whites introduced chattel slavery to what are now known as The Five Civilized Tribes: Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokees. The Cherokees exceeded their Indian counterparts in embracing southern white culture and they profited the most from slave ownership. By 1809 there were 600 enslaved blacks living in the Cherokee nation; the number increased to 1,600 by 1835. When Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act forcing Cherokees on a death march out west--the infamous "Trail of Tears"--they carried their black slaves with them.
Slavery in Indian Country (now the state of Oklahoma) proved far more profitable to the tribes than it had been in the Southeast. By 1860 there were 4,000 slaves living in the Cherokee nation alone. Slavery in Indian Country over time came to differ little from white slavery in the Southern states as slave codes were strictly enforced to maintain the hierarchy between slave owner and slave society. For example, a Cherokee could be expelled from the tribe for teaching a slave to read and write; (NICE!) the penalty for a slave who raped a Cherokee woman was death. Also the tribe fully cooperated with the federal government in enforcing fugitive slave laws. Runaway Cherokee slaves were not uncommon.
In 1842, four years after removal, 35 Cherokee slaves accompanied by their Seminole allies staged a slave revolt and attempted to escape through Creek territory. They were apprehended and brought back to their masters. Although the number of slave owners in Indian Country only amounted to approximately ten percent of the population, similar to southern society, the Indian planter class held sway over the tribes, many of whom resented both the Anglo-Saxon lifestyle and the peculiar institution.
STAND UP FOR THE FREEDMEN.... STAND UP FOR HUMAN RIGHTS