The Cherokee Nation voted this weekend to expel some 2,800 descendants of freed slaves. In a landslide victory, the decision to revoke citizenship was supported by 76% of voters. The central question at hand is whether to offer the benefits of tribal citizenship, including medical care, to the descendants of freed Black slaves who gained full tribal memebership in the late-1800s. The tribe is defending itself against charges of racism by claiming it allowed members to simply exercise their democratic right. But pretty much any way you look at it, this seems like plain old-fashioned discrimination. There is a precedent here that could be promising for Black Indians (they have until March 12 to protest the election results). The AP offered this insight from Indian Law expert Jon Velie,
"The United States, when posed the same situation with the Seminoles, would not recognize the election and they ultimately cut off most federal programs to the Seminoles," Velie said. "They also determined the Seminoles, without this relationship with the government, were not authorized to conduct gaming."
Now this one is confusing: based on a list the U.S. government drew up more than 100 years ago in an effort to break-up Indian lands, the Cherokee are trying to legislate discrimination based on their participation in a crime against humanity. And now, it’s up to the U.S. to protect the rights of Black Indians by rejecting the validity of the election. There’s clearly going to be a lot more to this story and it’s making me feel like I need to go out and get this book.