Descendants of Freedmen and Supporters Demonstrate outside Bureau of Indian Affairs Office in Muskogee Oklahoma for Treaty Rights on September 19 2008
On September 19 2008, Black Descendants of Freedmen and their supporters demonstrated outside the Muskogee Oklahoma BIA office. The freedmen are persons of African descent whose ancestors were enslaved by Indians of the “Five Civilized Tribes” prior to 1866. The tribes (Cherokee, Creek Seminole, etc) declared war on the United States in order to keep persons of African descent enslaved. The former slaves and their descendants were guaranteed tribal citizenship and rights to tribal programs, per capita payments, rights to vote and to hold office by both the US Government and the tribes through the 1866 treaties. Currently the freedmen have been disenrolled or face disenrollment proceedings in the tribes and also face discrimination in accessing tribal benefits such as health services or educational benefits provided to members of federally recognized Indian tribes by the US government.
The black freedmen and supporters carried signs demanding that the BIA enforce treaty rights of the black freedmen. Other signs reminded the BIA that only Congress can change treaties.
The majority of persons demonstrating were Cherokee freedmen tribal members whose tribal memberships are currently deemed by the tribe to be “temporary” after a freedmen disenrollment movement led by Principal Chief Smith resulted in a vote to expel the freedmen in which less than 9,000 persons voted out of a tribal membership of 280,000 people. Almost none of the freedmen people were permitted to vote. The tribe, which receives 80% of its budget (more than 300 million dollars) from the US government (ie the US taxpayers) has spent millions of dollars in lobbying and legal actions to discourage Congressional intervention, build public support for its freedmen removal campaign and shut down a lawsuit regarding the rights of Cherokee freedmen filed in the Federal courts in 2003 (Vann versus Kempthorne).
The tribe has refused to register as recognized tribal members more than 23,000 descendants of Dawes enrolled Cherokee freedmen tribal members – persons who are currently barred from participating in educational and health service programs, etc.
Angela Molette, President of the Enid NAACP branch and a disenrolled Choctaw freedmen descendant reminded attendants of continuing support of the NAACP for freedmen treaty rights. Marilyn Vann, a “temporary Cherokee freedmen citizen”, and Ron Graham (a disenrolled Creek Freedmen descendant), as Descendants of freedmen Association officers, exhorted attendants to continue to fight for treaty rights through lobbying, economic action, etc. They encouraged attendants to come to Washington DC to attend the September 26th panel on Freedmen issues sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Panel participants include Marilyn Vann, attorney Jon Velie and Mr Hilary Shelton, NAACP Washington Bureau Chief.