|Cherokee Nation Principal Chief|
Bill John Baker
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s voice choked with emotion on Saturday as he addressed the descendants of Cherokee freedmen descendants during his State of the Nation address.
“Our freedmen brothers and sisters made that Trail of Tears journey with us,” Baker said.
“We are taking steps to begin the healing for all parties. It has gone on far too long and inflicted too much pain upon too many people.”
The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma said on Thursday it will not appeal a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that states freedmen have the same rights to tribal citizenship as “native Cherokees” under an 1866 treaty.
Baker made his address during the Cherokee Nation Holiday ceremony at the Cherokee Nation Courthouse Square.
“We are strong. We are resilient. We are the descendants of Cherokees who endured unimaginable hardships. Our freedmen brothers and sisters made that Trail of Tears journey with us,” Baker said.
The court’s decision, and the Cherokees’ decision not to appeal it, settled a long-standing rift dating back to the recreation of Oklahoma tribal governments in the 1970s.
Rosie Green, 82, of South Coffeyville, said she sympathizes with the freedmen. Her great-grandfather was one-half Cherokee and crossed the Trail of Tears with his grandmother, she said.
“He fought at this courthouse for his rights,” Green said.
The Cherokee National Holiday honors the signing of the Cherokee Nation Constitution in 1839. The courthouse square was lined with parents pushing small children in strollers and pet owners corralling dogs on leashes, all under an overcast sky with raindrops falling here and there.
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