Citizenship Denied: The Latest in the Cherokee Freedmen Saga


The late Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller wrote in her autobiography the following words: “The truth is that the practice of slavery will forever cast a shadow on the great Cherokee Nation.”


The repercussions of slavery are still being felt within the Cherokee Nation, as a five-year legal battle between the Cherokee Nation and the descendants of freed Cherokee slaves ended on August 22, with the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruling against freedmen who had sought to have their status as citizens of the Cherokee Nation validated.


The ruling upheld a 2007 Cherokee Nation Constitutional amendment that requires the nation’s citizens to have at least one Indian ancestor on the Dawes Rolls, the primary document used to determine Cherokee Nation eligibility. That amendment was passed after the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the freedmen could qualify for tribal citizenship.


This latest ruling immediately revoked the citizenship of approximately 2,800 non-Indians, whose enrollment had been reinstated by a Cherokee Nation District Court four years ago. This ends the membership of Cherokee Nation members who are descendants of freedmen or of intermarried whites who had been granted Cherokee Nation citizenship.


The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court’s vote was 4-1. In the majority decision written by Chief Justice Darrell Matlock, the court said it does not have authority over the will of the people.