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Attorney for Cherokee freedmen questions timing of tribal court ruling

Ruling bars freedman without Cherokee blood from voting in September special election for tribal chief.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL Published: August 24, 2011

Freedmen contend that an 1866 treaty between the tribe and the U.S. government conferred citizenship on all former slaves who had been owned by tribal members, along with their descendants.

Cherokee Nation citizens passed a constitutional amendment in 2007 requiring Cherokee blood for membership.

A tribal district judge tossed the constitutional amendment early this year, ruling that it violated the 1866 treaty.

But the tribe's Supreme Court overturned the judge's decision on Monday and ruled that it didn't have the authority to tell the tribal members how they could amend their own constitution. The court said “a fair reading” of the 1866 treaty indicates that the freedmen were to be treated as equals “under the federal law as it existed at that time.”

Diane Hammons, the Cherokee Nation Attorney General, said, “The court basically held that … the people properly exercised their right to amend their own Constitution and the court could not interfere with that right.”