U.S. District Court rules that descendants of Cherokee freedmen have tribal rights

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OKLAHOMA CITY – A group of descendants of Cherokee freedmen will now be able to have the same rights as those native to the Cherokee Nation.

According to court filings, the Cherokee Nation freed all of its slaves after the Civil War and signed a treaty that gave rights to those freedmen.

However, a vote by the citizens of the Cherokee Nation put a lineage restriction on tribal membership.

As a result, a lawsuit was filed.

“The parties to this lawsuit have called upon the Court to make a judicial determination resolving what they believe to be the ‘core’ issue in this case, which is whether the 1866 Treaty guarantees a continuing right to Cherokee Nation citizenship for the extant descendants of freedmen listed on the Final Roll of Cherokee Freedmen compiled by the United States Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, also known as the ‘Dawes Commission,” the lawsuit read.

The Cherokee Nation argued that the treaty does not give rights to extant descendants of Cherokee freedmen because “any such rights were displaced by Congress’s enactment of the Five Tribes Act of 1906.”

However, the Court disagreed and ruled in favor of the freedmen.


“The Cherokee Nation can continue to define itself as it sees fit but must do so equally and evenhandedly with respect to native Cherokees and the descendants of Cherokee freedmen. By interposition of Article 9 of the 1866 Treaty, neither has rights either superior or, importantly, inferior to the other. Their fates under the Cherokee Nation Constitution rise and fall equally and in tandem. In accordance with Article 9 of the 1866 Treaty, the Cherokee Freedmen have a present right to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation that is coextensive with the rights of native Cherokees,” the decision stated.

“This is a wonderful victory for the freedmen who regained their identities as equal citizens in their nation. It is a victory against racial oppression and division. It is a win for Native Americans as the Federal Courts have enforced both treaty rights of citizenship while maintaining Tribes and elected officials rights to determine citizenship and self-determination pursuant  law,” Lead Counsel Jon Velie said.


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