Thursday, June 12, 2008

Watson Lacks Understanding of Freedmen Issue

THE PEOPLE SPEAK: Obama knows what Watson’s bill tries to do

In a recent opinion piece by Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., she criticized Sen. Barack Obama for being “wrong” on the freedmen issue. Sadly, it is Watson, not Obama, who lacks a complete understanding.

Politicians like Obama need to not only reject HR2824, but to also acknowledge the mistaken notions and faulty premises on which it is based.

Tribal governments retain the integrity of their culture and heritage by establishing guidelines for tribal membership. In the case of the Five Civilized Tribes, the final rolls of the tribes and freedmen are used as the principle documents for citizenship.

The tribes require that an individual be able to trace their lineage to an ancestor listed on the by-blood rolls in order to be a member. The only time in Cherokee history membership has been opened to non-Indians was between 2006 and 2007, when a court case in effect granted citizenship rights to descendants of the freedmen and intermarried whites listed on the Cherokee rolls.

A 2007 vote by the Cherokee people reiterated citizenship was for by-blood descendants, thereby revoking those memberships. Watson’s implication that “citizenship [was] suddenly removed because they were descended from slaves” is dangerously misinformed.

Contrary to a statement in her destructive legislation, not all African Americans were placed in the freedmen section of the rolls. If an African American applying to be on the roll was an Indian by blood, they were placed in the by-blood section of the roll, not the freedmen section.

Descendants of any Cherokee — by blood descended from slaves or not — can be members in the Cherokee Nation. Watson is perpetuating the malicious deceit that the Cherokee Nation has expelled African-American descendants of slaves from the tribe.

Obama is transcendentally wise for understanding the situation enough to reject Watson’s bill and the Congressional Black Caucus’ urging to cut the Cherokee Nation’s federal funding until they extend tribal membership to non-Indian freedmen. Rather than rebuking Obama, Watson should be as astute on the issue as Obama.

Hannah Flanagan-Flores

Bellflower, Calif.