Just as a federal judge was about to get involved, the Cherokee Nation reached an agreement Tuesday to allow descendants of slaves once owned by the Oklahoma tribe's members to vote for its principal chief.
Attorneys for the slave descendants, called freedmen, said the agreement calls for extending balloting for this Saturday's special election until Oct. 8 so that those qualified to vote can be notified and participate.
The agreement came during a hearing in federal court in Washington, where U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy was poised to deliver his ruling on whether Saturday's election could continue without the freedman participation. Freedmen attorney Jon Velie asked the judge for a 15-minute recess to negotiate over a proposal made by the tribe. After more than an hour huddling in the hallway with his clients and discussing the proposal with other attorneys, Velie returned to court to announce the deal.
Kennedy gave the parties until 10 a.m. Wednesday to submit a written agreement.
The agreement is a temporary reprieve in the long-running debate over whether the freedmen should be given full membership rights in the one of the country's largest tribes. But the lawsuit brought by the slave descendants — to keep their right to vote and other tribal benefits after tribe members voted to cut them off — will continue in federal court