Black Cherokees

I grew up in northeast Oklahoma: Cherokee country.  Many of my African-American friends growing up were also members of the Cherokee tribe.  The “Five Civilized Tribes,” which include the Cherokees, assimilated quite a bit into the white man’s ways–which is why the white men called them “civilized”–and that included, since they mostly lived down south, owning slaves.  On the Trail of Tears, they took their slaves with them to Oklahoma.  After the Civil War, in which conflict most of the Cherokees sided with their fellow slave holders in the Confederacy, the slaves, of course, were freed.  In 1866, the tribe signed a treaty that included the provision that all of the Freedmen, the ex-slaves and their descendants, would be granted full membership in the Cherokee tribe.  I always thought that was a noble gesture, accepting the former slaves as equals.  And the Cherokees in the past have not been particularly insistent on “Indian blood,” since tribal rules also allows for white Cherokees, who are as little as 1/16 Native American.

But now the Cherokees have voted to kick the Freedmen out of the tribe.  That was a few years ago, but now the tribal court has ruled on the matter, saying the black Cherokees can be kicked off the tribal rolls, which also means that they will be cut out of the health care and other benefits the federal government gives to Native Americans.  A federal court, though, has stepped in, forbidding the racial discrimination and insisting that the 1866 treaty is still valid.   So now the tribe is up in arms (not literally, not like the old days), insisting that a nation has the right to determine who its citizens can be.  (I suspect that another dynamic here is a bitter election for tribal chief.  A recent vote was nearly a tie, and it was contested to the point that a new election is in the works.  I suspect that disenfranchising a block of voters might be to one of the candidates’ advantage, though I don’t know who.  And there may well be other issues.  I’m pretty much out of touch these days.  I’d be glad to hear from any Cherokees of any color who might be reading this.  Feel free to correct me.)

Cherokee Indians: We are free to oust blacks – US news – Life – msnbc.com.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    The Cherokees in North Carolina might not even recognize the Oklahoma ones as Cherokees anymore. Do they get a vote?

  • SKPeterson

    The Cherokees in North Carolina might not even recognize the Oklahoma ones as Cherokees anymore. Do they get a vote?

  • Joe

    It is not addressed in the linked article, but this article clarifies that all people (regardless of races) who can’t demonstrate a blood linkage too the tribe will be out. http://newsok.com/attorney-for-cherokee-freedmen-questions-timing-of-tribal-court-ruling/article/3597492

    So it would seem that the “white” Cherokee are also out. And, I would imaging some “red” Cherolkee will also be out if they can’t prove up their linage and blood lines.

  • Joe

    It is not addressed in the linked article, but this article clarifies that all people (regardless of races) who can’t demonstrate a blood linkage too the tribe will be out. http://newsok.com/attorney-for-cherokee-freedmen-questions-timing-of-tribal-court-ruling/article/3597492

    So it would seem that the “white” Cherokee are also out. And, I would imaging some “red” Cherolkee will also be out if they can’t prove up their linage and blood lines.

  • Joe

    The interesting legal question will be the interplay of the tribes sovereignty, the ability of a US court to force a sovereign tribe to follow a treaty with the US and whether the US Supreme Court can expressly over turn a tribal court’s decision saying this was allowable. Very interesting stuff.

  • Joe

    The interesting legal question will be the interplay of the tribes sovereignty, the ability of a US court to force a sovereign tribe to follow a treaty with the US and whether the US Supreme Court can expressly over turn a tribal court’s decision saying this was allowable. Very interesting stuff.

  • SKPeterson

    Too bad if you’re the descendant of those who were adopted into the tribe like many whites once were into the Shawnee, Ojibwe and other groups. What if you’re part Cherokee and part Choctaw? Do you get votes in both tribal assemblies, or two half-votes?

  • SKPeterson

    Too bad if you’re the descendant of those who were adopted into the tribe like many whites once were into the Shawnee, Ojibwe and other groups. What if you’re part Cherokee and part Choctaw? Do you get votes in both tribal assemblies, or two half-votes?

  • Carl Vehse

    Fewer people in the tribe means larger shares of Cherokee casino profits.

  • Carl Vehse

    Fewer people in the tribe means larger shares of Cherokee casino profits.

  • Joe

    SKP – that would be up to the laws of each of the tribes.

  • Joe

    SKP – that would be up to the laws of each of the tribes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    What I find interesting is that the tribe asserts “sovereignty” while at the same time being on the dole to the tune of $33 million from HUD.

    Seems to me that, just like the states, the tribe will have to do what the Federal Government wants because of an unhealthy addiction to federal disbursements.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    What I find interesting is that the tribe asserts “sovereignty” while at the same time being on the dole to the tune of $33 million from HUD.

    Seems to me that, just like the states, the tribe will have to do what the Federal Government wants because of an unhealthy addiction to federal disbursements.

  • Austin

    Wait a second – is it just me or does this sound familiar somehow to the whole Illegal immigrant/undocumented worker fiasco?
    Not the slavery part, but the – ‘I don’t care if you were already here, get out’ – the idea of citizenship.

  • Austin

    Wait a second – is it just me or does this sound familiar somehow to the whole Illegal immigrant/undocumented worker fiasco?
    Not the slavery part, but the – ‘I don’t care if you were already here, get out’ – the idea of citizenship.

  • steve

    Carl is correct. The recent cut in the rolls of tribal membership in many Native American tribes can be tied directly to the flow of money coming in from casinos. Back when they needed the numbers they would take almost anybody. Its easy to share when you have no pie. Now that they have the political clout and the financial means, they’re being much pickier on who gets a cut of that pie.

    It’s shameful, really. A lot of people are basically having their identity stripped from them.

  • steve

    Carl is correct. The recent cut in the rolls of tribal membership in many Native American tribes can be tied directly to the flow of money coming in from casinos. Back when they needed the numbers they would take almost anybody. Its easy to share when you have no pie. Now that they have the political clout and the financial means, they’re being much pickier on who gets a cut of that pie.

    It’s shameful, really. A lot of people are basically having their identity stripped from them.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    How about DNA tests? That would be pretty accurate way of establishing relatedness. They are getting better all the time. It would be pretty hard deny relatedness if the DNA test established it.

    If they can establish the relatedness of modern day descendants of Jefferson and Hemming, they can probably establish that the blacks claiming Cherokee heritage either have it or not.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    How about DNA tests? That would be pretty accurate way of establishing relatedness. They are getting better all the time. It would be pretty hard deny relatedness if the DNA test established it.

    If they can establish the relatedness of modern day descendants of Jefferson and Hemming, they can probably establish that the blacks claiming Cherokee heritage either have it or not.


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