When the Cherokee were relocated from the South to present-day Oklahoma in the 1830s, their black slaves were moved with them. Though an 1866 treaty gave the descendants of the slaves full rights as tribal citizens, regardless of ancestry, the Cherokee Nation has tried to expel them because they lack "Indian blood."
The battle has been long fought. A recent ruling by the Cherokee Supreme Court upheld the tribe's right to oust 2,800 Freedmen, as they are known, and cut off their health care, food stipends and other aid in the process.
But federal officials told the tribe that they would not recognize the results of a tribal election later this month if the citizenship of the black members was not restored. Faced with a cutoff of federal aid, a tribal commission this week offered the Freedmen provisional ballots, a half-step denounced by the black members.
Is the effort to expel of people of African descent from Indian tribes an exercise of tribal sovereignty, as tribal leaders claim, or a reversion to Jim Crow, as the Freedmen argue? Kevin Noble Maillard, a professor of law at Syracuse University and a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, organized this discussion of the issue.
Follow the link to read the discussion between:
Kevin Noble Maillard is a law professor at Syracuse University and a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma
Cara Cowan-Watts is acting speaker of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council and a board member of the National Congress of American Indians.
Matthew L.M. Fletcher is a professor of law at Michigan State University, and editor of Turtle Talk, a law blog about American Indian law and policy.
Rose Cuison Villazor is an associate professor at Hofstra University Law School and the author of "Blood Quantum Land Laws and the Race Versus Political Identity Dilemma," published in the California Law Review.
Heather Williams, a Cherokee citizen and Freedman descendent, works for the Cherokee Nation Entertainment Cultural Tourism department.
Carla D. Pratt is a professor of law and associate dean of academic affairs at Penn State University’s Dickinson School of Law.
Tiya Miles is chairwoman of the department of Afro-American and African Studies, and professor of history and Native American studies at the University of Michigan.
Joanne Barker (Lenape) is associate professor of American Indian studies at San Francisco State University.