A Letter to the Editor Regarding the Cherokee Freedmen

Kimberly Horton

The Cherokee Nation based out of Tahlequah, Oklahoma has decided to strip “Freedmen” of their Cherokee rights and to expel them from their nation. Freedmen are African American descendants of slaves. The decision to expel them is based purely on the fact that they cannot prove their Native American heritage. The United States government openly disagrees with this issue and has already suspended more than $33 million in funding to the Cherokees and declined to recognize their appointment of a new Tribal Chief that is to take place later this month.

The issue with their decision is that they are basing this purely on race which is promoting segregation from a people who have fought with and supported them in their struggle to remain in existence throughout history. The issue of racism and segregation are pivotal points that the American people have worked so hard to overcome throughout the years. It is also known that some of the Freedman do actually have Native blood, but cannot prove this simply because they were listed as Black on the Dawes Roll. The Dawes Roll was created with the intent of separation and succeeded in that goal to the extent that it is still now affecting the fair and balanced treatment of Cherokee Nation citizens. At the time of the Dawes Roll creation, many governments operated under the idea that if you possessed one drop of Black blood in your veins you were considered Black and nothing else, which was an example of racism in its purest and most malicious form. Because of this incompetent type of thinking, children born in unions between former slaves and Native American Tribal members were recognized and listed as Black on the Dawes Roll.

If the Cherokee Nation chooses to go this route, the perception of Native American culture will drastically change. In recent online news articles I have already begun to observe comments from readers referring to Natives as “racist” and “egocentric.” As a Native American descendant who is also African American and a descendant of slaves I resent this passionately and am almost ashamed to say that I am of Native blood. I have been taught throughout my life by my Grandfather Joe Homer, who is Choctaw, that being Native American is something to be very proud of. My Grandfather fought his whole life to prove that he is a Native American and died fighting to a court system that dishes out the same racism that the Cherokee Nation is forcing upon its loyal people (“Loyal” being the keyword here not BLACK). As someone who has always been proud of my Choctaw heritage, I am hoping that the Cherokee Nation will rescind this hateful act against the people who have long fought with them and not turn into a replica of the very people who they fought from expelling them, simply because they were different.


Kimberly Horton

Kimberly Horton was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and is of African American and Native American descent, with ties to the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes. She is a college student working towards her Bachelor’s of Science in the Journalism field and aspires to have a career in communications. Kimberly is motivated by her passion to make a change and adheres to the quote by the philosopher and writer John Lilly that, “our only security is the ability to change.”

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shirleyzawada's picture
Ties means the way o feeling,the heart and the soul!
arapaho's picture
the author needs a reality adjustment. shes ashamed to be a decendant because the cherokee require that you have a ancestor on the government rolls listing tribal members? we sovereign tribes have the undeniable right to decide the enrollment criteria of our respective tribes, not just the cherokee, all tribes! the author should also brush up on modern politics, perhaps she should look into the congressional Black Caucus who mandate you must be "black" to be a member, meanwhile white congressmen in predominatly black districts are turned down for membership, wait isnt that race descrimination?
juliaelyse's picture
I don't see this as a racial issue because Native Americans are not technically a race. The difference is that races are not sovereign, whereas our tribal nations are sovereign. So I see this as an issue of sovereignty, and a nation has the right to determine its citizens. Personally, I dislike the idea of blood quantum because I believe it was established by the U.S. government to get rid of Native Americans over the next few generations. However, I do respect the right of a nation to choose its citizens, whether or not that includes me. At first, I was excluded from being enrolled in my tribe because my blood quantum was too low. However, my family accepted the enrollment policy, and it didn't change my identity as a Native person because I knew where my ancestors came from. This is the difference between Indians and non-Indians: we think about what is best for the tribe, even if it is not in our individual best interest. Over time, my tribe did change their requirements to open it up to a lower blood quantum. Citizenship requirements change over time as our nations shift and evolve. Some choose to open their rolls, whereas others choose to narrow them. I understand this group of African Americans were considered citizens during the treaty era, but I also see that the Cherokee Nation has changed a great deal since then. This particular nation has voted to narrow their requirement from "no Cherokee blood" to having "any amount of Cherokee blood," and I think that should be respected. The vote included Cherokee elders, and we look to our elders for advice. Lately, the BIA and courts have been trying to punish the Cherokee Nation for exercising sovereignty which is unfortunate. I hope all nations take the time to review their citizenship requirements during this era of self-determination.
rockytop's picture
The thing is, every other native tribe has the ability to determine its own citizenship. Every other native tribe limits citizens to those with native blood of their tribe. All other races must be able to trace to an ancestor on the Dawes Roll to be a part of the Cherokee Nation, so why should there be exceptions? And if there are exceptions in the matter of race, then why not make more exceptions and add people who are indirect (i.e., grand nieces and nephews) of someone on the Dawes Roll? It is not so cut and dried as most people seem to think. And it certainly is not a matter of racism but a matter of descendancy.
amber's picture
"Confirm their Indian blood"? Really?! Considering that trend was started by white men as a way to control and track us, it's hysterical to me that any of us would ask for blood degrees or enrollment numbers. The only times you need proof of those two things is to jump through the bureaucratic hoops that have been put in place for us by the same people who began recording our blood degrees in the first place. No one needs documentation to share, speak their minds, hold a conversation, or write an article. Personally, I think it's sad that these "freedmen" have been disenrolled. There is no doubt that they are most likely of Cherokee descent. So why do some of us care so much about a piece of paper that was most likely inaccurately recorded to begin with? This isn't the first tribe in recent history who has disenrolled numerous members, entire families even, with the changing of the guards. Seems to me, especially since Native Americans account for a supposed 1% of the U.S. population, we should stick together and cultivate inner tribal relationships so we are strong. Oh wait. Less members, more per cap. We should all fight against this and consider an incident like this to be tribal corruption, plain and simple.
rezzdog's picture
Chief, we are not buying moccasins, or Indian Art. We posted an honest opinion, from what I can tell is an honest woman. Now, what rational human being can find fault in that?
thechief's picture
Sounds like you got my point. You shouldn't be so emotional you're a professional or so I hope. I was just proving a point that ICT should do better due diligence on their writers. According to your standards anybody(who you believe is honest) could say they are indian and use this publication to pedal their platform to hurt other indians. Ie calling us racists. You have to remember their are groups aiming to hurt us(natives).
danielcady's picture
I have a native grand mother and cousins and children and grand children I am off white but in the summer i darken up with blue eyes ! what am i then ? i am different colors in different seasons, color alone cannot measure ones heart ones spirit or there soul ! in my great affection for the People and the land and the first nations you would never know !!
khortonsf's picture
As a point of clarification, my Native ancestry is confirmed. My great grandparents are listed on the Dawes Roll, and my grandfather (mentioned in the letter) did in fact receive his CDIB before his passing. -Kimberly Horton
makahqueen's picture
I completely agree with you on this one Rockytop. Each sovergin nation determines eligibility requirements for enrollment; which need to be honored by outside governements. What's scary to me is that the standard has now been set and the flood gates have now opened.