A Cherokee Nation judge ruled last week that descendants of freed Cherokee slaves can legally claim tribal membership. The issue stems from an 1866 treaty that was amended in 2007 to require tribal blood for membership.
In the decision Friday, Cherokee Nation District Court Judge John Cripps wrote that the post-Civil War treaty signed by the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. government specifically addressed the status of freedmen — former slaves who had been owned by tribal members. The treaty provided that freedmen and their descendants "shall have all the rights of native Cherokees," Cripps wrote.
The nation is still bound by the treaty, Cripps wrote. Though the French, Spanish, English and U.S. governments have violated treaties made with the tribe, Cripps said, "This does not mean that the Cherokee Nation should descend into such manner of action and disregard their pledges and agreements."
More recently, some black members of Congress called for a Justice Department investigation and filed legislation that would have stripped the tribe of millions of dollars in federal funds.
Diane Hammons, attorney general for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, says that tribal leadership respectfully disagrees with the ruling.
"We believe that the Cherokee people can change our Constitution, and that the Cherokee citizenry clearly and lawfully enunciated their intentions to do so in the 2007 amendment," Hammons told The Oklahoman. "We are considering all options, including our right to appeal to the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court."