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Fight over an ethnic ID

July 16, 2007

Re "Who's a Cherokee?" Opinion, July 10

Heather Williams writes that the Cherokee tribal constitution has been amended to require proof of a by-blood connection to be granted citizenship in the Cherokee Nation. Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) believes that this is discrimination and that federal funds to the tribe should be cut off by reason of racism.

My family has long passed down stories of Cherokee blood in our ancestry, and I am convinced that I am part Cherokee, although I am not a citizen of the nation. The Dawes Roll census in 1906 was considered a slap in the face by many of the Cherokee people, who purposely did not sign it, not realizing what importance it would have on their descendants. My ancestors were part of this group. I am sure that I am not alone.

I am fed up with people who scream racism at the first sign of disagreement. Withholding federal funding from the Cherokee Nation until it bows to Watson's demands is extortion. The tribe has every right to make whatever citizenship requirements it thinks are appropriate.

If the Cherokee Nation is forced to change its constitution to allow descendants of the non-Indian freedmen citizenship, it will further muddy the waters of the Cherokee people. Those of us who have Cherokee blood (but didn't sign the Dawes Roll) will not be able to claim their Indian heritage, while hundreds of people without Indian blood will be given that privilege. This is not acceptable.




Williams omits crucial facts and events that prompted me to introduce legislation to sever U.S. relations with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma until it restores full citizenship to black Cherokees, known as Freedmen. But she is correct to assert that the Treaty of 1866 is the underpinning of my contention that Freedmen are rightfully members of the Cherokee Nation. Curiously, the current Cherokee leadership now seeks to abrogate the treaty, which is the bedrock of U.S.-Cherokee relations, by expelling its Freedmen.

Why is the Cherokee Nation newly intent on limiting its definition of a Cherokee citizen to only those who can prove they have a "by-blood requirement" when it has had a history of inclusiveness, even admitting Shawnee and Delaware members with no Cherokee blood?

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has every right to exercise within the limits of the law its tribal sovereign rights to determine who is a citizen. But the sovereign right to discriminate is no right at all.


D-Los Angeles

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