Cherokee Freedmen

Following the unrest in Charlottesville, many cities and towns across the country are taking down their Confederate monuments. Members of the Cherokee Nation are also grappling with their Civil War history.

I
Allison Herrera/PRI 

Marilyn Vann always knew her background and where her family came from. She knew she was a Cherokee Freedman, a descendant of former slaves, and that she deserved to have full tribal citizenship, just like other native Cherokees.

That's why she was surprised to get a rejection letter when she tried to enroll more than a decade ago. After all, her father was an original enrollee on the Dawes Roll, a historical US government record of tribal members. That meant, she said, she was eligible for citizenship into the tribe.

A judge ruled Wednesday that the descendants of enslaved people who were owned by members of the Cherokee Nation — known as Cherokee Freedmen — have citizenship rights.

"The Cherokee Nation can continue to define itself as it sees fit," U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan wrote in his ruling, "but must do so equally and evenhandedly with respect to native Cherokees and the descendants of Cherokee Freedmen."

Allison Herrera

A case that helps determine whether or not the descendants of Cherokee slaves have the full citizenship rights of native Cherokees was decided in United States Federal District Court Wednesday.

After nearly three years, Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan in his ruling said the paramount question to be considered is whether an 1866 treaty between the Cherokee Nation and the United States granted the Cherokee Freedmen, or the descendants of slaves, "all the rights of native Cherokees."

Allison Herrera

Freedmen is another term for descendants of former slaves. And in the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma, the question of their status within the tribes has been debated for decades. In the Cherokee Nation, there are two open court cases that will determine the freedmen’s tribal citizenship. And a similar debate is happening in the Seminole nation.

In this third and final story in our series about the Freedmen, Invisible Nations’ Allison Herrera explains why the Seminole freedmen feel especially angry about the actions of their tribal council members.

Allison Herrera

It’s arguably one of the more controversial issues in Indian Country-the case of the Freedmen-descendants of former slaves looking to gain citizenship into one of the major tribes in Oklahoma. Cherokee Freedmen have waited more than two years on a decision from a federal judge telling them whether they can be citizens of the tribe. Invisible Nations Allison Herrera brings us this first story in a three-part series about the issue.

Allison Herrera

It’s one of the most controversial issues in Indian country, the issue of the Freedmen.

Cherokee Freedmen were former slaves adopted into the Cherokee tribe after the Trail of Tears. Today, descendants of the Freedmen say they've been denied citizenship and other rights owed to them. A federal judge is expected to rule on this issue sometime this year.