Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Will BILL JOHN BAKER, New Cherokee Chief DO THE RIGHT THING BY The Tribe's Slave Descendents?

JUSTIN JUOZAPAVICIUS has an article in The Republic

After a bitter, drawn-out election that lasted almost four months longer than it should have, new Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker treads into yet another political minefield after his inauguration ceremony: squarely, should descendants of slaves some Cherokees once owned retain their tribal membership?

The protracted struggle of the 2,800 or so descendants, known as Freedmen, became a major issue on the campaign trail. Baker's opponent, former Cherokee Chief Chad Smith, was among the major supporters of a 2007 vote by tribal citizens to kick the freedmen out of the tribe and cut off benefits such as health care, grocery stipends and housing assistance. Baker, a longtime tribal councilman, also backed the measure, but appeared far less vocal about it while he was campaigning.

That strategy likely won the support of untold hundreds of freedmen, who were allowed to vote in the Sept. 24 special election because of a last-minute deal brokered before a federal judge. Baker beat Smith by nearly 1,600 votes.

The citizenship issue has landed back in Tulsa federal court and the stakes couldn't be higher for the 300,000-member tribe, which is based at Tahlequah. In the weeks leading up to a Sept. 24 special election, the government demonstrated what could happen if the freedmen are excluded from the tribe: nearly $40 million in federal housing funds was frozen and the assistant secretary for Indian affairs warned that any election the Cherokees held without granting suffrage to the freedmen would be illegal.

"We're going to have to do a balancing act," Baker told The Associated Press as his Sunday ceremonial inauguration approached. "I've taken an oath to protect and defend the Cherokee Nation, and we're going to have to protect and defend the $500 million we get in federal funding. It's a tightrope," he said.

Baker is keenly aware of the risk. About 12 years ago, when the Seminole Nation voted to oust freedmen descendants from its tribe, the government cut off federal programs and refused to recognize its Elections. Their freedmen were later allowed back in, but the tribe is still paying the price for its decision.

"To this day, they still haven't gotten all their funding back, some of it has been lost forever," Baker said. "That's why when we sit here and talk about if they cut our funding, that's not just something we're picking off a shelf. We've got a roadmap of what could happen in the Seminole case.

"It's no pie in the sky that could happen; we're sitting there looking at what did," he said.

OP:  I believe it is important that if the Cherokee Nation does not do what is right, we fight to have their funding cut off.    Sure, they are free to do this as a sovereign nation, but we are also free to demand that we don't support their action with OUR tax dollars.

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