Hello readers,

This afternoon I’d like to share a link to a blog by a UNC Press author, Celia Naylor. She wrote African Cherokees in Indian Territory: From Chattel to Citizens, and today, over at the First Peoples blog, she writes about the history and current events surrounding the Cherokee freedmen controversy. In particular, she draws our attention to the historical import of the Dawes Commission, especially as regards sovereignty, race, and citizenship.

First, I’d like to give you a bit of background. And at bottom you’ll find some links from varied viewpoints. Here’s a summary, in the very broadest of strokes:

Throughout much of the last 150 years, the Cherokee Nation has recognized the citizenship descendents of slaves once held by their members. In the early 80s, however, descendants of the Cherokee freedmen saw their citizenship rights challenged because they were not “Cherokee by blood.” That is, they did not have ancestors whose names appeared on the Dawes roll. There has been much debate and action on this issue–here, I’ll direct you to the links below–and in August, the Cherokee Supreme Court ruled that some 2800 freedmen were not to be considered Cherokee citizens. In response, this September the US Department of Housing and Urban Development stepped in and froze $33 million dollars in funding to the Cherokee Nation. Then in a surprising reversal, descendants were allowed to vote in tribal elections for principal chief (extended through this week), and in another, on Friday a federal judge dismissed one of the two cases over citizenship of descendants. The outcome of all these actions has yet to be determined.

I hope you find Professor Naylor’s post as eye-opening as I did–Beth

Without further ado, here’s Celia Naylor’s post—

The two most recent elections in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma in 2007 and 2011 have intensified the debate about the “place” of descendants of Cherokee freedmen in the Cherokee polity, especially their position as part of the Cherokee citizenry. The ongoing justification(s) for the disenfranchisement of some descendants of Cherokee freedmen reflects at its very core an entirely ahistorical and almost fictitious representation of slavery and enslaved people in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Cherokee Nation. Though a small percentage of Cherokees enslaved people of African descent (some of whom were also of Cherokee descent), chattel slavery became incorporated within the socioeconomic and political landscape of the Cherokee Nation in the decades before forced relocation in the 1830s to Indian Territory (current-day northeastern Oklahoma). Moreover, after removal, the Cherokee Nation reestablished its investment in enslaved labor and the institution of slavery itself as crucial to its rebuilding process in Indian Territory. Both slaveowning and non-slaveowning Cherokees benefited from the unpaid labor and services of enslaved people. [click to continue reading.]

Links for understanding the issue: