Cherokees Vote: Slave Descendants Expelled

The nation's second-largest Indian tribe has upheld a decision booting out "freedmen." 

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Freedmen leader Marilyn Vann

The Supreme Court of the Cherokee Nation has upheld a 2007 tribal decision to kick thousands of descendants of black slaves out of the tribe.

The "freedmen," descendants of slaves who accompanied Indians on their forced march to Oklahoma in 1838, known as the Trail of Tears, were admitted to the Cherokee Nation after the Civil War.

"[O]ur ancestors carried the baggage," said Marilyn Vann, president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, who is a plaintiff in the legal battle challenging the expulsion.

But Cherokee Nation officials maintain that as a sovereign nation, the tribe has the right to amend its constitutional membership requirements to exclude them. And it plans to do just that.

"This is racism and apartheid in the 21st century," said Vann, an engineer who lives in Oklahoma City.

The vote has more than just a sad symbolic impact; for the freedmen, being removed from the membership rolls means they'll no longer be eligible for free health care and other benefits such as education concessions.

Vann no doubt spoke for many when she told the Tulsa World that the decision represents "a dark day for the Cherokee Nation, for Indian Country and for mankind."

Not surprisingly, the freedmen don't plan to give up easily. They'll protest Sept. 2 outside the Bureau of Indian Affairs' eastern Oklahoma regional office and will be on hand during the Cherokee National Holiday parade Sept. 3. Meanwhile, a lawsuit challenging their removal from the tribe has been pending in federal court in Washington for about six years.

Read more at Tulsa World and Reuters.

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