Downsizing Cherokee Nation in 500 Years of Politics
In the 20th century, many Cherokee descendants became more well known than in previous centuries. For example, famous journalist and humorist Will Rogers contributed great amounts of laughter to the world.
Rogers brought more recognition to this tribal nation with his nickname "Cherokee Kid" -- He was one-quarter Cherokee and a documented tribal member. The Cherokee Heritage Center and the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore OK hosted an exhibit on the life of Rogers from September 29, 2018 through March 30, 2019.
Despite many such recognized tribal members and their contributions to America, the tribe began downsizing.
Turmoil Around Native Minorities in America
Native Americans have been featured in the news with increasing frequency since one group, the Crow Nation, adopted President Barack Obama as a member upon his election to U.S. president in 2008.
More recently, another nation, the Lakota, seceded from the United States and proceeded to bill federal agencies for "squatting" on their native-owned lands.
Increasing numbers of indigenous groups are renewing efforts to become US Federally Recognized Tribes or at least State Recognized Tribes, leading to some opposition and controversy. Many people want to join tribes, even though they have little or no proof of ancestry.
Other Americans remembered and wanted to renew the movement under President Truman through President Kennedy of the U.S. Congress attempting to eliminate all recognition of Native American groups.
During all this in the AD 2010s, Cherokee Nation controversially downsized.
Annual Cherokee National Treasures were named for 2018 and included Loretta Shade, Troy Jackson, Lisa Rutherford. Annie Wildcat received the award posthumously. All four winners were people who worked to preserve tribal arts, language, culture, and education.
The Cherokee National Holiday is an annual event held each Labor Day weekend in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Slaves, Freemen and Descendants
Cherokee Nation's governing body decided that the descendants of the African slaves owned by Cherokees in the post-Civil War, Reconstruction era would be removed from tribal rolls and lose all memberships and benefits.
The leadership voted to include black slaves of the 18th century and voted to exclude their descendants without appeal in the 21st century in 2007. Upon examination, the vote was found to be proper and legal, but the reasons for the ouster were unclear.
Allegations of racism against black members were leveled, along with allegations of election tampering AND vote-blocking.
The African slaves and biracial offspring joining the Cherokee were taken as Freedmen along the same Trail of Tears march forced he U.S. Federal Government and the President of 1838. The combined peoples, natives and blacks, marched through the harshest blizzards of the 19th century from the Carolinas into Oklahoma, losing many to hypothermia, starvation, over exertion, and severe illness.
Cherokee Nation, until 2011, held the rank of second-largest Native American group, but without its black descendants, that rank may fall.
Below, indigenous advocate and Cherokee Phoenix editor Will Chavez travels the Trail of Tears by bicycle.
The 1896 Dawes Commission Index listed 14,000 people in the Five Civilized Tribes of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole Nations. Blood quantums (percentages of "Indian blood") were not included.
About the Next Video
"American Red and Black: Stories of Afro-Native Identity" is produced by Alicia Woods. Made in 2006, this film looks at six Afro-Native Americans from around the United States. They speak about their thoughts on complex issues of Native and African heritage, ethnic identity, and racism inside multicultural communities.
Downsizing Cherokee Nation
The ex-slaves, or Freedmen, that went to Oklahoma - and their descendants - were on the tribal books as official tribal citizens until about 1980.
After 1980, the tribal leaders amended their membership requirements to mandate direct descent from an ancestor listed in the Cherokee By Blood section of the official Dawes Rolls that counted native numbers. This action disallowed many of the black descendants of the original Cherokee Freedmen who could not prove blood ties.
The tribe stripped these former citizens of tribal voting rights and citizenship, while these controversial legal actions received backlash, they continued to 2007 and were re-examined in 2011.
Harsher backlash began in 2011 when HUD decided to deny Cherokee Nation funding after its Supreme Court tossed the blacks from membership. HUD (U.S, Department of Housing and Urban Development) funds already on deposit to the tribe were frozen and a $33,000,000 withdrawal attempt in late summer 2011 was denied.
Lawsuits and Bills
- Lucy Allen vs. the Cherokee Nation
- H.R. 2824 [110th]: To sever US relations with the Cherokee Nation
A bill in the U.S. Congress: To sever United States' government relations with the Cherokee Nation ...
A U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee Freedmen. The judge reaffirmed their rights, citing the 1866 treaty the Cherokee Nation and the US government signed after the Civil War.— Allison Herrera of PRI.org; August 31, 2017.
Slavery, Freedom and 21st Century Rights
It is a shock to some Americans that the Cherokee owned plantations in the South before the Civil War and owned African slaves to work on these farms. Racist thought against black Cherokee tribal members unfortunately still exists in the 21st century, contributing to the decision in 2007 to expel descendants of Freedmen.
In the summer of 2017, a U.S. District Court judge reaffirmed all the tribal rights of the Cherokee Freedmen, citing the 1866 treaty the tribe U.S. government signed after the Civil War. Thus far, the ejected black Cherokee members are members once again.
According to the U.S. Census, about 120,000 tribal members live within the largest landholdings of the Cherokee Nation. The Eastern Band includes 12,500 members and the United Keetoowah Band has approximately 16,000 members. The largest group has no blood quantum requirements for membership.
- Hubbard, J. Cherokee Nation announces 2018 Cherokee National Treasure honorees. Cherokee.org; 2018. www.cherokee.org/News/Stories/08202018-Cherokee-Nation-announces-2018-Cherokee-National-Treasure-honorees Retrieved October 12, 2018.
- Inglish, P. Famous and Inspiring Cherokee People. hubpages.com/education/Famous-and-Inspiring-Cherokee-People Retrieved October 10, 2018.
- Fixico, D.L. Termination and Relocation: Federal Indian Policy, 1945-1960. University of New Mexico Press; 1986. Included in The Journal of American History 93(1); March 1988.
© 2011 Patty Inglish MS