Cherokee Nation, freedmen seek legal answer to long-running dispute

Cherokee tribe, freedmen and the U.S. government ask a federal judge in Washington to resolve the key question in a lawsuit that is now more than a decade old.
by Chris Casteel Published: September 17, 2013
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— The Cherokee Nation and the descendants of slaves who have been suing the tribe for more than a decade have taken an extraordinary step to get a decision from a federal judge.

Cherokee freedmen, the tribe and the federal government filed a joint request for a judge to address the central issue in the dispute — whether an 1866 treaty between the tribe and the U.S. government gave the freedmen the right to tribal citizenship.

The legal filing, made Friday in U.S. District Court here, notes that the original case was first filed in 2003 and that issues about the Cherokee Nation's sovereign immunity have gone twice to a federal appeals court.

“However, despite a decade of active litigation, very little else has been addressed in that case,” the brief states.

Marilyn Vann, the Oklahoman who is the namesake of the original case, has — along with about 2,800 other freedmen — been given provisional citizenship in the tribe while the case is still active.

She said in an interview Monday that the citizenship rights of about 30,000 other people are at stake in the case.

“It's been 10 years and we're still dealing with jurisdiction and procedure,” she said. “If a decision can be made about what rights the freedmen have, a lot of the other things can be worked out or declared moot.”


by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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