Cherokee Nation Hears Freedman Case

June 1998 – Tahlequah, Oklahoma

  The Case of B. R.

In an unprecedented case, a citizenship case regarding the admission of a Cherokee Freedmen descendant, and life long resident of Oklahoma was heard in the Court of the Judicial Appeals Tribunal (Supreme Court) of the Cherokee Nation.  The case is unique because it is one of the few Freedman cases ever to be heard in the Nation.

  The citizenship of B R., (whose full name is withheld here for reasons of privacy) was heard on June 12, 1998, in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.  Three justices of the Court heard the case, including Justices Vile, and Birdwell.  The attorney representing the plaintiff was Kathy Carter-White, who practices law in Tahlequah.  Expert witness brought in for the plaintiff was Angela  Walton Raji, author, genealogist and historian. In preparation for the case, Ms. Walton-Raji had researched the history of the family of B.R. documenting that the plaintiff’s grandparents and gr. grandparents had been slaves of the illustrious Vanns  and Rogers of the Cherokee Nation.  The history of R’s family was also distinguished by the fact that the plaintiff’s own grandfather had served honorably in the Indian Home Guards during the Civil War.  With the clear and distinct ties to the Cherokee Nation, the case is a perfect example of the alienation of the Freedmen, through blood quantum----a government supported system of racial segregation, exclusion and expulsion within certain domains.

After initial opening remarks from each side, the case of B.R. became blurred when the acutal admission process was highlighted.  It was noted that there is a committee of several individuals---however, it is sustained by ONE active member who serves as  both the party to review applications, and to hear all appeals.  The acting registrar----sent the Freedman applicant, to go and obtain a Certificate of Degree of Indian blood----which is restricted from Freedmen.  Upon rejection-----and upon appeal, the same registrar, will then review the appeal and deny the person again. 

It is worthy to note that the card, which states a “degree” of Indian blood has no scientific merit.  No scientific method of measurement existed when the Dawes rolls were created, and was such consideration not an issue when the Freedmen portion of the Rolls were created.  Freedmen had already been adopted by the Nation in accordance with the Treaty of 1866. They were already members of the nation.  In addition, the plaintiff’s parents and grandparents also had their names placed on the 1880 Roll of Authenticated Cherokee Freedmen.

The requirement for admission is simply stated----one must proved descendancy from  persons listed on the Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes.  What is not said-----is that the applicant cannot be a Freedmen.  Such a statement would be an obvious representation of blatant segregationist practices practiced.  It was noted that the plaintiff was amusingly (to the amusement of the registrar) told to go and bring back something that can never be returned.

In total  disregard of the Treaty of 1866, (of which the Cherokee Nation was the first to adopt),  the Freedmen-----obviously of African ancestry-------and in many cases, also of Cherokee ancestry--- the adoption of the popular anti-African sentiment brought into the Indian Territory by white southerners after the Land Rush-----took foothold.  This anti-black sentiment has prevailed from the days of statehood, Jim Crow laws in Oklahoma and through the Civil Rights movement, and is alive today in the nations that were enthusiastic practitioners of black chattel slavery.  The Freedmen, like others, are simply petitioning for status in the nation, to which there is a documented tie.

This blatant violation of the Treaty of 1866 and the practice of blood measurement, began before DNA was ever a tool of measurement, before blood plasma was even discovered.  This “measurement” was taken by sons of slave owners who comprised the leadership element within the nation, and who embraced a sentiment  of “racial superiority” and domination of one class (race) over another. 

In the case heard on  that  June day, it was noted that the registrar will tell the Freedman visitor seeking enrollment to return with a CDIB card, knowing hat such person will be sent in an unending circle of confusion, and will eventually give up and never pursue the case further.

The facts are simple, and clear----Africans were welcomed as slaves and discarded as free people. Like their segregationist counterparts in the deep south, the leaders have sanctioned an abominable form of exclusion of persons of African ancestry,  while embracing individuals of Euro ancestry openly. 

In the hearing it was pointed out that a group of persons known as “Intermarried Whites” with 0% Cherokee blood are considered citizens.  Delaware Indians with 0% Cherokee blood are considered citizens. Delawares were “adopted” by the Cherokee Nation.  Freedmen  were “adopted” by the Cherokee Nation.  Yet---they are NOT given citizenship.  One of the attorneys for the plaintiff pointed out that a practice of apartheid is practiced in such cases.

Interestingly, may of those who are turned away, have as much ancestry and “blood” as many persons who are already  enrolled and still being enrolled.  The “white” applicant for citizenship enrolled with 1/700th degree of “Indian” blood is welcomed and accepted as a member of the nation.  The African applicant with 1/16th degree of Indian blood is not.  The effort  to expunge the presence of all persons African, is the most closely  continually practiced form of apartheid known to exist in modern times.  This is ironic, considering that many persons being prevented have the same blood as those admitted.  This has a sad historic ring, and has a flavor of  “racial purity” and “ethnic cleansing” that many would be surprised to learn exists on American soil.  As one sat in the courtroom with the American flag in the corner, the ironies were blatant.

In the case of B. R., upon meeting the plaintiff, one sees a face reflecting the plaintiff’s own Cherokee ancestors.  One of the enslaved ancestors researched for the case was fathered by one of the Cherokee slave owners.  This documented  connection to the nation is clear.  On another side, the plaintiff’s mother was a part of the Ross clan, and a grandparent was a direct descendant of  The Ridge. The family was connected to the Ross, Vann, and Rogers families. Yet this African Cherokee person, who has pride in both Indian and African ancestry two races of dignity, this individual is told by one faction of that they are not welcome.

The case, held in June of 1998 has never had a ruling.  This comes as no real surprise, to many observers.  The plaintiff is elderly and there is a sentiment among some observers that it is simply hoped that with time, the interest will subside, and simply go away. In other quarters it is assumed that as time passes, people also pass away, and should the plaintiff pass away, a ruling of any kind would be unnecessary.  Fortunately B.R. is blessed with good health, and a strong disposition.

B. R. lives quietly in Oklahoma, and has a strong voice within the local community. It is clear that with or without any card, the Cherokee ancestry is firm, documented and one in which can be spoken of with confidence and dignity.  The Freedmen will not go away for they were there and are a part of the history of the Cherokee Nation, whether their home nation agrees or not.