TAHLEQUAH, Oka. — The Bureau of Indian Affairs has acknowledged that the federal government no longer has the authority to approve amendments to the Cherokee Nation Constitution. In a letter dated August 9, the BIA’s top official, Carl Artman, cited a June 23 vote of the Cherokee people and agreed that federal approval of amendments to the Cherokee Nation Constitution would no longer be necessary.
“This acknowledgment of our sovereignty should be seen as a victory not just for the Cherokee Nation, but for all tribes who understand the importance of self-governance and crafting a Constitution by and for their own people, without interference from Washington, D.C,” said Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
The letter ends an eight-year struggle by the Cherokee Nation to remove the BIA from its Constitutional process.
“I have to thank Cherokee patriots like Jay Hannah, Ralph Keen Jr., and so many others who worked on our Constitutional Convention since 1999,” Smith said. “Without the efforts of Cherokee citizens like them, this day might never have come.”
“The BIA has told us what we already knew---the Cherokee people do not need a federal bureaucracy micromanaging our Nation,” said Meredith Frailey, Speaker of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council. “The Cherokee people are remarkable and resilient. When you consider our history and the remarkable progress our government has made, it is obvious that the Cherokee people citizens are perfectly capable of making fundamental decisions about our government for ourselves.”
The Cherokee Nation re-affirmed its 2003 Constitutional amendment rejecting BIA approval with a 67%-33% vote on June 23, despite claims from some candidates for office that a yes vote would result in a negative reaction by the BIA.
“Some candidates actively deceived our own people, even claiming the BIA would cut our funding if we voted yes,” Smith said. “In fact, just the opposite is true: the BIA has said repeatedly they do not intend to cut funding and that they affirm our tribal sovereignty.”
The BIA’s regional director, Jeanette Hanna, recommended approval of the amendment in July.
“We appreciate Jeanette Hanna’s prompt action on our vote in June, and we owe her a debt of gratitude for her service in the regional office,” Smith said. “This action demonstrates the BIA backs up the federal policy of self-governance for Indian nations, and we do appreciate that they acknowledge what our own courts have already held to be true: that the Cherokee people are the only people with the right to decide what our Constitution says.”