By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
A candidate competing for a Cherokee Nation Tribal Council post is seeking a court order requiring the tribe to process all pending citizenship applications filed by freedmen descendants.
Robin Mayes, one of six candidates competing for an at-large post, also is seeking an order “to hold open the election” long enough to allow applicants time to register to vote and cast ballots.
Mayes, who previously challenged the candidacies of tribal councilors on the basis of term limits, alleges tribal officials have wrongfully restricted the enrollment of freedmen descendants. He contends the tribe’s failure to process pending applications violates an existing court order and hinders his candidacy.
A.J. Garcia, a Tahlequah lawyer who represents Mayes, filed the motion for the emergency restraining order Friday afternoon. The filing came after some absentee ballots have been cast and a day before early voting began. Precinct voting is scheduled June 22.
“Mr. Mayes is concerned regarding the restriction against the Cherokee Freedmen descendants exercise of their rights,” Garcia said. “As it stands, the current order in place is not sufficiently protecting the rights of those Cherokees descended from freedmen to be recognized as citizens and participate in the political process of the Cherokee Nation and its government.”
Mayes said he views Friday’s development “as a positive move and the first opportunity for the freedmen to get to participate in this election.” Mayes said he had exhausted every remedy available at the tribal level before filing a motion June 1 to intervene in the freedmen lawsuit. The emergency restraining order is necessary because of the upcoming election.
“Mr. Mayes has previously raised these issues in the tribal court and was rejected,” a representative of the Cherokee Nation Attorney General’s Office stated in response to the candidate’s motion. “The Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Election Commission are in complete compliance with the previous order entered by agreement before Judge Kennedy in the same federal case that is now in Tulsa.”
The tribe’s attorney general’s office argues “those individuals who were registered as citizens ... continue to enjoy all rights of citizenship during the pendency of the litigation, including the right to vote.” Tribal officials contend the order applies only to freedmen descendants enrolled before Cherokee voters approved in 2007 a constitutional amendment requiring citizenship to be based on proven lineage by blood.
Mayes asserts the court order issued by a federal judge in 2011 directs tribal officials to ensure that freedmen descendants “have access to and receive rights and benefits on the same terms as any other Cherokee citizen.” The order purportedly includes assurances that freedmen have the “right to register as a Cherokee citizen and to vote in the 2013 election.”
Freedmen descendants argue that their citizenship rights are secured by an 1866 treaty and cannot be denied unilaterally, an interpretation with which federal officials and several courts have agreed. The tribe’s highest court has held the freedmen’s citizenship rights were granted by the tribe’s earlier constitution, which has been revoked or amended numerous times since then.
Mayes, who lives in Denton, Texas, is competing in a field of six candidates for the at-large post on the tribal council. The other candidates are Ken Luttrell, Carole Richmond, Jack D. Baker, Curtis West and Curtis Bruehl.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.