, Muskogee, OK

June 21, 2007

Negotiation over freedmen faces deadline

By Donna Hales

Legislation will be filed to sever relations between the federal government and the Cherokee Nation if an agreement is not reached by 2 p.m. today to restore rights to Cherokee freedmen.

Freedmen, black descendants of Cherokees, were voted out of the tribe on March 3 and temporarily restored to citizenship in May 2007.

U.S. Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., will file a bill today that proposes cutting off tribal funding from several federal agencies and suspending the Cherokee’s gaming authority until the Cherokees restore full rights to the freedmen and fulfill all Cherokee Nation treaty obligations.

“She will drop (introduce) it today,” Watson’s spokesman, Bert Hammons, told the Phoenix.

Negotiators for the Cherokee Nation are representatives of Principal Chief Chad Smith, said Wayne Thompson, a former lobbyist who works as a consultant and as an advocate. He is a negotiator for the freedmen.

Dr. Ron Daniels, national civil rights leader associated with the freedmen, said negotiators continue to work toward an acceptable agreement to all parties.

Thompson denied rumors on various Web sites that negotiations had included talk of the freedmen receiving land within the Cherokee Nation, receiving part of the Cherokee’s Arkansas riverbed settlement, help in getting a casino and a promise not to protest the freedmen receiving federal recognition on their own.

Smith emphatically denied all such offers.

“We would never support creating a federal band,” Smith said.

The proposed legislation calls not only for suspension of the right to conduct gaming operations but includes not being able to administer any funds from such gaming until the Cherokee Nation is in compliance with all treaty and other obligations with the United States.

The proposed legislation, if passed, could affect other tribes. No later than six months after the date of enactment, a public report to Congress on the status of freedmen in the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole nations of Oklahoma would have to be given from the secretary of the Interior.

Reach Donna Hales at 918-684-2923 or Click Here to Send Email