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 ccasteel@opubco.com Published: August 24, 2011
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— The attorney representing freedmen in their case against the Cherokee Nation said Tuesday that he was shocked the tribe's Supreme Court ruled against the freedmen so close to the special election to pick a new chief.

Attorney Ralph Keen Jr., of Stilwell, said the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court's ruling, which was handed down on Monday, came a day before the tribe's election officials sent out absentee ballots for the election between Chad Smith and Bill John Baker.

The tribal court's decision means about 2,800 freedmen — the ancestors of slaves who had been owned by Cherokee members — won't be able to vote in the Sept. 24 election.

Hall said the timing “shocked me … when you put it in the context of the special tribal election.''

The freedmen who have been fighting for citizenship in the Cherokee Nation consider Smith, the incumbent principal chief, one of their adversaries.

Marilyn Vann, who lost her citizenship because of Monday's ruling, said Tuesday, “It is obvious this decision is the tool (Smith) is using to regain his position as chief and deliver the blow to eliminate my citizenship and other Cherokees who have held this status since 1866.”

Vann is the lead plaintiff in a federal-court case that is still pending.