On Monday the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court reversed and vacated a district court decision that granted equal tribal citizenship rights to descendants of freedmen — former slaves who had been owned by Cherokees. The decision will immediately terminate the tribal citizenship of about 2,800 so-called “non-Indians.”
In 2007, the Cherokee Nation ruled it would no longer recognize the descendants of freedmen as members of the Cherokee Nation. But in January, Cherokee Nation District Judge John Cripps ruled in favor of the freedmen descendants, citing an 1866 treaty between the United States and the tribe that granted equal rights to the freedmen.
In Monday’s 4-1 decision, the court maintained that citizenship was extended to the freedmen by an 1866 Cherokee constitutional amendment — not the treaty — and that Judge Cripps did not have the authority to overturn its results.
The attorney representing freedmen in their case against the Cherokee Nation said Tuesday that he was shocked the tribe’s Supreme Court ruled against the freedmen so close to the special election to pick a new chief, according to the Oklahoman.
The ruling came a day before the tribe’s election officials sent out absentee ballots for the election between Chad Smith and Bill John Baker.
The freedmen, who have been fighting for citizenship in the Cherokee Nation, consider the incumbent principal tribal chief Smith one of their adversaries.