The Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a letter to the Cherokee Nation on Monday demanding that the tribe reinstate the black “Cherokee Freedmen” that had been members of their group since 1866. These blacks became legal members of the Cherokee Nation through a curious process. Their ancestors were slaves of wealthy tribesman who were brought to Oklahoma as part of a forced relocation in the 1830s. After the Civil War (during which their masters fought to defend the South), the freed slaves were promised that they would be counted as members of the tribe as part of a treaty between the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. government.
Now Cherokee leaders want to go back on that promise — and the U.S. isn’t having it. Last month the Cherokee Supreme Court voted to change their constitution to limit membership to those who could prove that they have Cherokee blood. This effectively ousted the black Cherokee Freedmen, stripping them of their right to vote and receive benefits like health care.
The United States has informed the Cherokee Nation that if they don’t reinstate the black Cherokee Freedmen and allow them to vote, America will not recognize the new chief slated to be elected on September 24. Interim chief Joe Crittenden had this to say in response, according to Reuters: “The Cherokee Nation will not be governed by the [Bureau of Indian Affairs].” Oh really?
The U.S. has responded by withholding a $33 million disbursement from the tribe until it gets its act together. Which is a smart move, because this is clearly about money. The Guardian describes the financial savings the tribe is clearly seeking to greedily garner by kicking the blacks out in more detail: