Friday, September 16, 2011

"Rights As Native Cherokee?"

As the struggle continues for the citizenship of Cherokee Freedmen it is important that the historical record reflect the truth to their claims as Cherokee citizens. The Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court has interpreted the 1866 Treaty as only giving the freedmen and their descendants “rights as Native Cherokee.”

Senate Document 239 (63rd Congress, 1st Session pg3)
Through some reasoning that defies established law and historical precedent this ruling claims the freedmen descendants were not given citizenship. In the past I’ve used actual documents from the Congressional Record Serial Set to illustrate how ridiculous that claim appears.

In the 63rd Congress , 1st Session the Cherokee Freedmen presented a memorial to Congress for the purpose of enrolling individuals who were left off the final rolls of freedmen citizens.

Senate Document 239 (63rd Congress, 1st Session pg4)

In their memorial to Congress, the Freedmen gave voice to their determination to be included in the nation of their birth and fought to have additional people enrolled who were left off the roll by the machinations of the Dawes Commission.

The freedmen correctly assert, that the Act of Congress of June 10, 1896 “the rolls of citizenship of the several tribes, as they existed.”

There could be no clearer language that an act of Congress established confirmed the citizenship of Freedmen in the “several tribes” known as Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek (Muskogee) and Seminole, for the Cherokee Nation to come up with a definition that dubious at best is only a self serving attempt to deny the actions of Congress and the legal supremacy of the Treaty of 1866.
Senate Document 239 is  only four pages in length gives provides additional insight into the matter and must be included as part of the historical record that established the citizenship of the Cherokee Freedmen descendants.

Senate Document 239 (63rd Congress, 1st Session pg4)

This portion of Senate Document 239 illustrates at least two factors concerning the citizenship of the Cherokee Freedmen.

 First, the Secretary of the Interior gave clear and specific instructions for the Dawes Commission to include the names of certain freedmen and their descendants on the final rolls as citizens of the Cherokee Nation. The secretary did this to correct and protect their rights which were “wrongfully denied membership (citizenship) in said nation.”

All of this is quite plain language and continues to demonstrate that the Cherokee Freedmen had been given citizenship with all of the privileges of citizenship as “Native Cherokee’s.” For the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court to rule otherwise is testament to their violation of the rights that were established by the Treaty of 1866.

In the next portion of the memorial the rights to citizenship is illustrated by the cultural and political context the Cherokee Freedmen established by their continued residence in the nation of their birth.

Senate Document 239 (63rd Congress, 1st Session pg4)
Clearly the Treaty of 1866 has remained in force and therefore the rights and privileges of citizenship remain in force for the Cherokee Freedmen.

What is astounding is the rationale for the removal of citizenship by the Cherokee Nation when they attempt to establish citizenship based on the amount of Cherokee blood an individual has.

It is clear from much of the documentation that the Dawes Rolls were never done to establishment “citizenship” by way of Cherokee blood; the rolls were a segregated census of ALL the citizens entitled to land allotment. Today these same rolls are now being abused to perpetuate some kind of racial superiority test for having “Cherokee blood.”

Additionally, anyone who takes the time to actually study the rolls and other documents will know that it would be virtually impossible for any freedmen descendant from any of the Five Slave Holding Tribes to “prove” they have “Indian blood.”

The Dawes Commission made it clear anyone with a mother of African descent or a slave; her children would be considered a slave, or in the words of the former Cherokee Chief “non-Indian” no matter how much “Indian blood” that individual possessed.

This is the standard argument for all of the Five Slave Holding Tribes and they should be called on it. The morally right thing to do would be to honor the Treaty of 1866 and stop the canard of an Indian race when speaking of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creek Indians; the Seminoles are a different story.

For more on this story an interesting online debate on the New York Times website is a good read click the link below:


  1. Very good, timely and factual post. Thank you.

  2. Excellent article Terry, though while it may not have always been the case, many Freedmen have documented by blood ancestry, as demonstrated in the 2000+ Dawes Equity cases.

    Stefanie Colbert Stringfellow
    proud to be a by blood AND Freedmen descendant