, Muskogee, OK

February 3, 2014

Federal court motion seeks grant of rights to freedmen

By Teddye Snell

— TAHLEQUAH — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has filed a motion in federal court for a summary judgment in the freedmen and Cherokee Nation court case.

The motion, submitted last week by acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher, requests that all citizenship rights provided by the Cherokee Nation be afforded to “certain Cherokee Freedmen and their descendants.”

About 2,800 Freedmen descendants are seeking citizenship rights within the tribe. In 2007, the Cherokee Nation passed a constitutional amendment requiring tribal citizens to have at least one Indian ancestor on the federally authorized Dawes rolls.

Freedmen claim the Treaty of 1866 between the U.S. and the Cherokee Nation created citizenship for the slaves and their descendants. Since 2007, Freedmen descendants were allowed all the rights of other Cherokee citizens only if they could provide documentation of an Indian ancestor on the Dawes Rolls.

“This court should declare that the Treat of 1866 between the Cherokee Nation and the United States guaranteed certain Cherokee Freedmen and their descendants ‘all the rights of native Cherokees,’ including the right to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation, and that this treaty provision continues to guarantee descendants of eligible Freedmen with citizenship and all other rights of ‘native’ Cherokees,” states the court document. “As a result, the Cherokee Nation’s March 3, 2007, constitutional amendment making the descendants of Freedmen ineligible for citizenship is inconsistent with the treaty. The Cherokee Nation should be enjoined from denying tribal membership rights to descendants of those individuals listed on the ‘Freedmen’ portion of the Cherokee Dawes Rolls.”

Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the U.S. District of Columbia Court ordered a briefing schedule last September for summary judgment in the case.

Hogan required the Cherokee Nation to file opening motions for partial or summary judgment by Nov. 29. Freedmen counter-claimants were to file a response by Jan. 31.

Oral arguments are set for 10 a.m. April 28 in Courtroom 25A in the D.C. court.

Teddye Snell writes for the Tahlequah Daily Press.