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Cherokee vote limits members

The tribe moves to expel descendants of former slaves.

March 04, 2007|From the Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Cherokee Nation members voted Saturday to revoke the tribal citizenship of an estimated 2,800 descendants of the people the Cherokees once owned as slaves.

With a majority of districts reporting, 76% had voted in favor of an amendment to the tribal constitution that would limit citizenship to descendants of "by blood" tribal members as listed on the federal Dawes Commission rolls from more than 100 years ago.

The commission, set up by a Congress bent on breaking up Indians' collective lands and parceling them out to tribal citizens, drew up two rolls, one listing Cherokees by blood and the other listing freedmen, a roll of blacks regardless of whether they had Indian blood.

Some opponents of the ballot question argued that attempts to remove freedmen from the tribe were motivated by racism. Tribal officials said the vote was a matter of self-determination.

The petition drive for the ballot measure followed a March 2006 ruling by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court that said an 1866 treaty assured freedmen descendants of tribal citizenship. Since then, more than 2,000 freedmen descendants have enrolled as citizens of the tribe.

Court challenges by freedmen descendants seeking to stop the election were denied, but a federal judge left open the possibility that the case could be refiled if Cherokees voted to lift their membership rights.

Like their white neighbors, the Cherokees in North Carolina and Georgia were slave holders in the early 1800s. Many took slaves when they were forced to migrate in 1838 and 1839 to what is now Oklahoma -- in a deadly march know known as the Trail of Tears. After the Civil War, the tribe made the then-free slaves Cherokee Nation members.

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