Sen. Barack Obama and the Cherokee Freedmen: Politics as usual
By Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.)
Posted: 05/13/08 05:29 PM [ET]
On the same day that African American voters went to the polls to cast their ballots in North Carolina and Indiana, descendants of the former slaves of the Cherokee Nation (known as Freedmen) fought in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to enforce their treaty rights guaranteeing them equality and voting rights in the tribe. Attorneys representing the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma have filed to have the case dismissed on the grounds that only Congress can enforce the treaty because the Cherokees have sovereign immunity. (no the Cherokee Nation said, it should not be a party to the action the Freedmen have filed against the department of the Interior and the BIA - you see Congress already set these rules up, but the Freedmen just don't like them.) Yet the Cherokee Nation on that same day held a conference in the U.S. Capitol on why the Freedmen matter should be left to the courts. (yep, you see there were subsequent actions taken by Congress that changed the 1866 Treaty, which Congress has the right to do. It is these subsequent actions by Congress that the Freedmen want to ignore - again their fight is with the US Indian Policy, not the Cherokee Nation - so what did the Federal Judge do, he added on his own, the Cherokee Nation as a defendant - it is the appeal of this action that was heard on May 6 of this year - we're waiting for the results)
Without a clear understanding of the issue (oh, looks like he has a better understanding than she thinks), Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has weighed in on the side of the Cherokees by publicly opposing my legislation (he's running for president, and looking for votes, smart move on his part), H.R. 2824, which suspends U.S. relations with the Cherokees until the rights of Freedmen are restored. Sen. Obama also takes exception to a recent Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in which the caucus declares its opposition to Native American housing legislation if it does not include a provision that would prevent the Cherokee Nation from receiving any benefits or funding under the bill if the Freedmen are expelled from the tribe.
Thirty-five CBC members signed the letter, including its chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.).
Sen. Obama’s argument mirrors the Cherokees’ justification for Freedmen termination (termination?, say what?, geesshh, tribes have the right to determine who is or is not a tribal member, so no Cherokee Ancestor, no Cherokee Citizenship, where is the problem with that? How do you terminate something they never were?). He declares that the Freedmen issue is a matter of tribal sovereignty and should be arbitrated in the courts and not Congress. But what Sen. Obama fails to understand is that the Freedmen issue is about treaty rights, not tribal sovereignty. What Sen. Obama probably has not been told is that the Cherokee Freedmen issue tracks the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma’s attempt in 2002 to terminate its Freedmen that was squashed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs when it halted all federal funding to the tribe and suspended the Seminoles’ federal gaming authority. (no not quite, Cherokee's have their own tribal courts - Obama is trying to save the CBC from looking like hypocrites - all black congressional club telling the Cherokee Tribe they can't be all Cherokee - not to mention the courts need to interpret that 1866 Treaty in light of the Five Tribes Act and the Curtis Act - Congress terminated the Freedman's rights in the early 1900s and most recently the Court of Claims has denied their claim as being way to late in time, their position was litigated in the early 1900s. Some of the Freedmen apparently aren't even on the Dawes Roll - get over it )
The Cherokee Nation, as many of the other slaveholding Indian tribes, fought on the side of Confederacy during the Civil War. In 1866, the U.S. and the Cherokee Nation signed a treaty to reestablish relations between the Cherokee Nation and the United States. The 1866 treaty forms the new foundation for Cherokee sovereignty that continues to this day. (you know what, that guilt by association again, right - the descendants of the Cherokees today don't have slaves, no slavery in the Cherokee Nation since what 1863 and as descendants we ought not have to pay til the crows come home for what we had no control over. Your fight is with the U.S. Indian Policy not the Cherokee Nation)
Article IX of the Treaty of 1866 states that Cherokee Freedmen shall have “all the rights” of Cherokees. The language in the treaty has been interpreted on more than one occasion by the courts as that “all rights” include the right of Freedmen citizenship. That same year, in 1866, the Cherokee Nation amended its constitution to give Freedmen full rights of citizenship, including land allotments. Federal courts have consistently determined that the treaty abrogated the Cherokees’ sovereign right to legalize slavery or determine the citizenship of its former slaves. (whoa, legalize slavery, say what? we've not had slavery in the Cherokee Nation since about 1863 - these folks aren't slaves - the Cherokees however, are slaves to Congress and are being unfairly vilified by the Freedmen in this case - vilified to the point that they are trying to cut funding to the Cherokee Nation before anyone understands exactly what the 1866 and subsequent Congressional Acts did - don't blame us - we have the right to change our Constitution just like California has that right - don't give us that *oh, poor slave stuff*, look around you in Congress, just exactly how many MEMBERS of Native American Tribes do you see - yeah, right, who's victimizing whom here. Oh, they just love to quote that 1866 Treaty without telling what happened afterwards - our Chief by the way is an Attorney - who better to understand all this, than a Cherokee Lawyer)
Despite a long history of legal precedent favoring the Freedmen, Chad Smith, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, continues to hammer at the notion that Congress should defer to the courts on the Freedmen issue. It has become the rallying cry of his supporters and numerous well-paid lobbyists. He reminds us that the Cherokee Nation is a nation of laws and will abide by the decisions of the courts. Given Smith’s mantra that the Freedmen issue should be left to the courts, it is curious that Smith’s lawyers recently argued in U.S. District Court that Congress has rightful jurisdiction over the fate of the Freedmen. (You need to quite blaming our Chief, he put it up to a vote of the tribal Citizens - you think we're all a bunch of robots or something - geesshhh, we do have a few brains - and what Sen Watson doesn't know, is this issue has been around for about 60 to 70 years and the tribes have always caved without litigation to the blackmail of Congress - add the Freedmen as citizens or we'll cut the funding. Good grief lady, let's get it resolved. Sen. Watson has bought into the Freedmen story without looking at all sides and all the facts)
Whatever branch of government has ultimate authority, it is clear that the past actions of Smith belie his commitment to the rule of law. (and how do you figure that - everything he's done, has been above board and according to Cherokee law - you need to quite listening to the hate mongers - this is just a blatantly false statement) After the Cherokee Nation’s tribal courts ruled in favor of Lucy Allen, a Freedmen descendant who sued for citizenship, Smith chose to dissolve the Cherokee tribal court (say what? he added another level of review, a Cherokee Supreme Court) and pack the newly constituted court with his cronies, (so what, the president of the US doesn't do this as well? So what else is new - oh, give me a break, the wolf is hollering foul) who proceeded to approve a referendum to overturn Allen’s petition. The decision of Smith’s court laid the groundwork for the March 2007 vote to expel the Freedmen. (and doesn't congress pass legislation all the time to overturn Court decisions - get a grip - apparently the US asks the Cherokee Nation to do one thing and they themselves do another)
The Cherokee Nation lost its sovereign right to engage in slavery upon enactment of the 13th Amendment and to determine the citizenship of the descendants of its former slaves upon ratification of the Treaty of 1866. (What - I repeat, we haven't had slavery in the Cherokee Nation now for what well over 100 years) Over the past several decades, our nation has stood up for the rights of indigenous minorities (well, stand up for us now), as has the U.S. Congress through its Helsinki Commission as well as other congressional forums. Defending any government’s right to commit gross acts of discrimination (no, no, no, you see the Congressional Black Caucus is an all Black Congressional Club that won't allow any other races in, the Cherokee Nation is made up of Cherokee Citizens, those who have a Cherokee Ancestor on the Dawes Roll and they come in all sizes shapes and races, we even have Freedmen who are Cherokee Citizens because they have a Cherokee Ancestor on the Dawes - so this again is just blatantly untrue) under the guise of sovereign immunity is a non-starter. It is as unsupportable in South Africa, China, Zimbabwe and Bosnia as it is in the Cherokee Nation, arguably even more so in the Cherokee Nation since it is located within the continental U.S. and its sovereignty on the issue at hand has already been abrogated by Congress. (Wow, Watson must want all of Indian Country to go with McCain in Nov. - Look, Black doesn't trump our voting rights as Citizens of the Cherokee Nation and while we're on this subject, since the Cherokee Nation was here long before the Europeans, just how does she justify taking a sovereign nations sovereignty - she needs to understand we are a distinct peoples and the US doesn't have the right to run all over us, although you'd sure like to. The Freedman's fight is with the US Indian Policy NOT the Cherokee Nation)
African American voters should think about how they would feel if their citizenship rights were suddenly removed because they descended from slaves. This is precisely what the Cherokee Nation wants to do in violation of its own treaty obligations. It is morally repugnant and legally wrong. (do we tell Africans who they have to allow to vote? and Indian voters need to remember what the European have done to us - for the Five Tribes, moved us all from the East to OK, then took our land - other tribes were rounded up and put on reservations (which is a white man's word by the way) and wouldn't allow us off of them - that's right, once they were on the reservations they weren't allowed to leave - not to mention 200 years of discrimination by the US - oh, don't get me started - I got no pity here - let us run our own tribe, we don't need guardianship anymore - what we need is protection from all these self ID Indians that are running amuk)
Watson is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform, and Foreign Affairs, committees.