Black congressmen question Cherokee vote
WASHINGTON — Black leaders in Congress asked the federal government to weigh in on the legality of a vote by the Cherokee Nation earlier this month to revoke citizenship from descendants of former tribal slaves.
Saying last Tuesday that they were “shocked and outraged,” more than two dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus signed a letter to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs questioning the “validity, legality, as well as the morality” of the March 3 vote.
“The black descendant Cherokees can trace their Native American heritage back in many cases for more than a century,” said Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif. “They are legally a part of the Cherokee Nation through history, precedent, blood and treaty obligations.”
Watson emphasized that the federal government spends billions of dollars each year on Native American programs, including for the Cherokee Nation.
In the special election, more than 76 percent of those casting ballots voted to amend the tribal constitution to limit citizenship to descendants of “by blood” tribe members and remove an estimated 2,800 freedmen descendants.
The descendants had become tribal citizens after the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled in March 2006 that they had been wrongly excluded, citing an 1866 treaty the court said assured tribal citizenship to descendants of freed slaves.