April 24, 2006
Susan Bates
Update: Cherokee Freedmen Evicted From Nation March 11, 2007

On March 7, the highest court of the Cherokee Nation ruled that descendants of the Freedmen found on the Dawes Roll could enroll as members of the Cherokee Nation. Previously the court had limited citizenship to those who could trace their ancestry to a person with either Cherokee, Shawnee or Delaware blood.

The Cherokee Freedmen are descendants of freed slaves and free mixed African Cherokee peoples who received Cherokee
citizenship in 1866 based on a treaty with the US government and on amendments to the 1839 Constitution. Proponents of the bill argued that if the framers of the 1975 Constitution had meant to exclude the Freemen descendants, they would have said so in the document.

According to a Cherokee Nation News release, "Our Court has announced its decision, and we accept that as the law of the land."

But wait just a cotton pickin' minute!

Six days later at a tribal council meeting, Principal Chief Chad Corntassle Smith called for a "constitutional allow the Cherokee voters to strip the Cherokee Freedmen from their status as tribal citizens."

Smith said the ..."Freedmen had been "paid off" when they received their allotments and had thus received more than the former slaves of US citizens" and further more the Freedmen hadn't done anything to help build the nation for over 100 years and shouldn't receive the benefits of tribal membership.

Ahhhh! Benefits...... Now we get to the heart of the matter....

Quoting Marilyn Vann, President of the Descendants of Freedmen Association, "I am amazed that the Principal Chief would
propose taking such actions to remove a class of citizens of the tribe who have held citizenship in the Cherokee Nation for almost 140 years.

Is the Cherokee nation a "race" or a "nation"?

".....It is difficult to conceive that the leadership of the Cherokee nation can embrace as tribal members those individuals who merely based on appearance appear to be Caucasian people but cannot accept a small number of people who are descendants of long time tribal members who have some African blood but most of whom have many documents besides the Dawes Final roll .... to prove their Indian ancestry.

And even for those who cannot establish a Cherokee "blood quantum", they have rights as promised under US laws and the laws of the Cherokee Nation. As for why the Freedmen received land allotments, they received allotments as did every other tribal member.

"Regarding the Chiefs beliefs that the freedmen have not built up the Cherokee Nation for more than 100 years, the tribe has not been functioning as a tribal nation for most of the last 100 years. For more of that time period, there was a Chief appointed by the US government, no tribal court, no tribal council, and no tribal employees....

Those Cherokee freedmen tribal members who were employed by the tribal government during the early 1980s were stripped
of their jobs by Chief Ross Swimmer when the Freedmen tribal members opposed him for reelection. That is when they stopped "building up the tribe" and it was not their choice to stop doing so.

"...If Cherokee Freedmen have not used their skills as Doctors, Nurses, CPAs, attorneys and engineers since 1983, it is because they have been kicked out of the tribe....

Every day people obtain membership cards in the Cherokee nation (although) they and their ancestors have lived in far away states since the early part of the 20th century and have contributed nothing to the Cherokee nation since 1910.

The Cherokee Freedmen people have only asked for their rights as promised by the 1866 treaty and in the 1976 constitution which the freedmen people voted on along with other tribal members."

Contact: Marilyn Vann at 405-818-5360 or visit her website at: 


Thanks to Robert Francis for providing some of the facts for this article.