Sunday, 18 September 2011
Fascinating article in the Guardian. Who would have thought the newspaper would ever show some sympathy for the idea of stripping blacks of their citizenship and denying them benefits?
The idea that a 21st-century sovereign nation would expel a racial minority that had been part of it for a century and a half seems outrageous. Yet this is precisely what has happened in the last month in the Cherokee nation, the second largest American Indian tribe. The US government's condemnatory response, however, may cause more problems than it solves.

The Cherokee freedmen are the descendants of African American slaves owned by wealthy Cherokee tribal members. When principal chief Stand Watie became the last confederate general to surrender in the American civil war, a treaty emancipated these slaves and gave them equal rights. The Cherokee nation went further than this in 1866, amending their constitution as follows:

"All native-born Cherokees, all Indians and whites legally members of the nation by adoption and all freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law […] shall be taken and deemed to be citizens of the Cherokee nation."

But more than a century later, chiefs Ross Swimmer and Wilma Mankiller created a new requirement that all Cherokee should hold a certificate of degree of Indian blood. This stripped the freedmen of citizenship. It was declared unconstitutional in a 2006 decision by the Cherokee supreme court. Chief Chad Smith, an uncompromising opponent of freedmen citizenship, arranged a referendum which, in 2007, amended the constitution of the Cherokee nation to once again require "Indian blood". Last August, this referendum was upheld by the Cherokee supreme court. Two thousand eight hundred freedmen lost their status as citizens, including their right to food aid and medical services.


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