Obama administration lawsuit could finally decide freedmen issue, Cherokee Nation says

In a countersuit filed in Tulsa, the Obama administration wants a federal judge to rule that the descendants of freed slaves have the same rights as other Cherokees.
by Chris Casteel Published: July 4, 2012

— The Obama administration's move to force a judicial decision about Cherokee freedmen means a resolution may finally be reached in the long-running case, Cherokee Nation officials said Tuesday.

“Now we can move forward on this issue,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a statement. “We will have everyone at the table, and all issues will be presented so we can get a definitive ruling.”

Jon Velie, a Norman attorney who has represented the freedmen in a case in Washington and the current one in Tulsa, also applauded the countersuit filed Monday by the U.S. Department of Interior.

The administration took the side of the freedmen, saying an 1866 treaty that allowed the freed slaves of individual Cherokees to be members of the tribe is still in effect for the descendants of those freed slaves.

That is what the Cherokee freedmen have been contending for more than a decade and claimed in a lawsuit filed in federal court here; a federal district judge last year consolidated the case with one filed by the Cherokee Nation in federal court in Tulsa.

The administration is asking the judge in Tulsa for a declaratory judgment that the 1866 treaty “provided Cherokee Freedmen and their descendants with ‘all the rights of native Cherokees,' including the right to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation.”

Moreover, the administration wants the judge to say that the treaty was not abrogated by other laws and that a 2007 amendment to the Cherokee constitution that makes freedmen ineligible for citizenship is inconsistent with the treaty.

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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