Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Rep. Deb Haaland Secretary of Interior Bid Lacking support by Freedmen of the Five Tribes

We wrote last week about Joe Biden balking at choosing Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico for Secretary of the Interior.  It's never easy, but any job with the responsibility for Native America absolutely shouldn't be  Our Freedmen of the Five Tribe friends has some issues with Rep. Deb Haaland and a petition is up here    There are 7,750 signatures already.  Read please.

We call on Representative Deb Haaland to publicly pledge her support for citizenship and equal rights for Freedmen of the Five Tribes in Indian Territory before being seriously considered for the position of Secretary of the Interior and to outline and commit to a plan for Freedmen integration and inclusion in Indian Territory. 

We demand accountability from Representative Debra “Deb” Haaland of New Mexico’s first Congressional district for her exclusion of legislative protections for Freedmen of the Five Slaveholding Tribes of Oklahoma while serving as New Mexico’s First Congressional District’s Representative.

As Freedmen of the Five Southeastern Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole Nations) now located in Oklahoma, we have precarious relationships with our tribes of origin. Freedmen descend from those enslaved by tribal members in the 1700 and 1800s, as well as Native people who had been tribal members since before European contact and free Black people who were tribal citizens and members at the time of Dawes enrollment in the late 1800s. With the Treaties of 1866, all five of the Five Southeastern Tribes abolished slavery and promised their Freedmen citizenship and equal rights. However, in all of these tribes but the Cherokee Nation, Freedmen are either denied tribal citizenship rights or deemed second-class citizens. In the Seminole Nation, Seminole Freedmen are enrolled as partial and unequal tribal members and are counted when the Seminole Nation requests federal funding but are excluded from any tribal housing, healthcare, or educational programs or funding on account of their race--a modern Three-Fifths Compromise. In the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek Nations, “Freedmen” are not only denied housing, healthcare, and educational programs, but are also denied basic citizenship and voting rights on account of their race and their ancestors’ statuses as Black and/or enslaved people. Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek Freedmen are also excluded from protections afforded Native children in the Indian Child Welfare Act on account of being excluded from tribal citizenship. These modern-day Jim Crow policies can no longer be tolerated. We need a Secretary of the Interior who will enforce the Five Tribes’ treaty obligations to Freedmen and who will investigate and end the discriminatory Jim Crow policies in Indian Territory.

Representative Deb Haaland’s past legislative action indicates that she is not a strong supporter of protections for Black Native “Freedmen” of the Five Tribes in Oklahoma. In December 2019, Representative Haaland co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) through 2024 that removed protections for Freedmen of the Five Tribes that had previously been included in bills reauthorizing the funding. Although constituting only 5 of the 573 federally recognized tribes in the United States, the U.S. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has informed the Five Tribes that they can expect to receive 10% of the program’s funding--over $62 million in funding for the program. However, as it currently stands, four out of the Five Tribes receiving this large amount of funding would exclude Freedmen from it solely on account of their race and/or due to being descendants of Black slaves. As Freedmen, we believe that our tribes must follow their own treaties and basic human rights and civil rights principles in order to receive federal tax payer-funded resources. 

Deb Haaland must speak up now before being nominated for Secretary of the Interior in support of Freedmen of the Five Tribes and--if appointed to the office of Secretary of the Interior--must work diligently to ensure that our rights as Native people are protected. As Secretary of the Interior, she would oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs and would have the power to investigate the tribes, enforce our treaty rights, and bring an end to the modern-day Jim Crow we are facing. We must have Native leadership that is inclusive of all Native peoples, Black Natives and Freedmen included. Representative Haaland is a serious candidate for Secretary of the Interior, and would ultimately have the power to uphold the citizenship and civil rights of Freedmen of the Five Tribes if appointed. She should understand that this is racism pure and simple, and it’s time to stop Jim Crow like policies in Indian Country.

Freedmen and our enslaved ancestors have shared culture and community with other tribal members for generations, and it is time that we are given equal access to our nation and community. Freedmen have long oral histories of our ancestors’ time on the Trail of Tears and in Indian Territory, attend and lead tribal events, speak tribal languages, and identify strongly with our tribes of origin. For us, citizenship is not just a piece of paper or a CBID card, but is the confirmation of our history and our culture. 

As a Native American woman, Deb Haaland has a moral responsibility to end this racism. Add your name demanding that if selected to be Secretary of the Interior, she right this wrong for good.

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