January 23, 2017

Oklahoma judge sends Cherokee freedmen case to federal court

Marilyn Vann protests during last year’s Sovereignty Symposium in Oklahoma City.  AP FILE PHOTOOn July 2, the Honorable Judge Terrance Kern of the Oklahoma Northern District Court transferred the Cherokee Nation v. Raymond Nash et al case that was filed in his court in February 2009 to D.C. Already awaiting judgment in D.C. is the case of Marilyn Vann et al v. Ken Salazar filed in August 2003.
Kern will not hear the Nash case, filed by the Cherokee Nation, due to both cases resembling each other in parties and subject matter of Freedmen citizenship, plus the first-to-file rule.
“I think there are certainly advantages,” Marilyn Vann said of the Nash case going to D.C. “Judge Kennedy has been reviewing the issues with the Freedmen.”
Vann, who is president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association and Band Chief of the Freedmen Band of Cherokee Nation, said it’s better to have both cases with the same judge rather than having a new judge in a different circuit look at the information for the first time.
Vann defines Cherokee Freedmen as “descendants of free mixed African Indians and blacks enslaved with the protection of Cherokee nation government policies prior to the end of the Civil War.”
Both cases ask whether or not the 1866 treaty between the U.S.  Government and the Cherokee Nation guarantees citizenship to Freedmen with the Cherokee Nation.
“The DC court of Appeals has previously held in 2008 that the 13th amendment and the treaty of 1866 have whittled away the tribe’s right to discriminate against the Freedmen,” Jon Velie, lead Counsel for the Cherokee Freedmen in both cases, stated.
A special election to amend the Cherokee Nation constitution on March 3, 2007 removed tribal citizenship from approximately 2, 800 Freedmen. Cherokee citizens must now be “descendants of Indians listed by blood on the Dawes Rolls,” according to the Cherokee Phoenix, the tribe’s newspaper.
“We eagerly await the day when all descendants of Dawes enrolled Cherokee Freedmen can register/re-register as Cherokee Nation tribal members, vote and run for tribal political office as promised our ancestors by the US government and tribal officials in 1866,” Vann said. “We do believe we will win … everything shows the Freedmen treaty rights were never extinguished. The Freedmen are only asking for enforcement of legal rights we already have. We’re not asking for money … we have rights that are legally ours.”
Vann said only the Five Civilized Tribes – Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole - have treaties dealing with Freedmen rights and their cause has nothing to do with any other tribes.
In 2000 the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma attempted to remove Freedmen from tribal rolls, however the Department of Interior (DOI) stepped in and withheld federal funds from the tribe stating the tribe violated the 1866 treaty. The Seminole Nation lost its case against then DOI Secretary Gale Norton in 2002 and federal funding was restored back to the tribe. The court document states the Bureau of Indian Affairs would “not restore a ‘government-to-government relationship’ with the Nation’s General Council ‘until the Freedmen representatives are restored to the General Council.’”
The Cherokee Nation Web site provides a timeline and background information regarding the Cherokee Freedmen and states, “The Cherokee Nation is a great Indian nation that embraces our mixed-race heritage. We are proud of our thousands of citizens who share African-American, Latino, Asian, Caucasian and other ancestry. Our sole purpose is to weave together a great Indian nation, made up of many ethnic groups which are knit together through one common cultural thread -- a shared bond to an Indian ancestor on the base roll.”