Kimberly Horton deserved to be heard. As a non-Indian (white), I too believe I should be afforded the opportunity to speak out. Since I care what happens in the lives of Indian people (and their tribal sovereignty), to censor my thoughts and others similar to me is a separatist act that will harm Indian people in the long run. While sovereignty has to be maintained, it should be pointed out that the Cherokee Nation was once a slaveholder nation. The Cherokee Constitution of 1827 specifically identified black people as slaves. Years later, any black slaves who had been freed by their masters were identified as "intruders" in the Cherokee Nation and were expelled. This is part of Cherokee history and the history of some other nations in Oklahoma. This history, of course, is not shared by the other hundreds of tribal groups throughout our country. This makes the Cherokee and a few other tribes unique when we talk about institutionalized racism and slavery. It makes them unique when we talk about descendants of Freedmen and women, some of whom have Cherokee ancestors but cannot support this claim by evidence on the Dawes Rolls. Tiya Miles, an African-American scholar, has written a book about this history entitled, Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom. She has just won the MacArthur "Genius Award" for her contribution "to the current discourse on ancestry and citizenship in contemporary America." She deserves to be read if anyone is interested in learning more about the current commentary started by Kimberly Horton's letter to the editor of Indian Country Today. Sure, the Cherokee Nation has authority over who is and is not a member of their tribe. But this is a complex situation. Consider - according to the Cherokee Nation Registration Department in 1996, out of more than 175,000 enrolled members, as many as 87,223 had less than 1/16 degree of Cherokee blood, and the range of Cherokee blood was from "fullblood" to 1/2,048. Within this context, why would the Cherokee Nation be so intent upon disenfranchising approximately 3000 descendants of Freedmen who may have an historical relationship with the Nation. After all, most of the wealth of the Cherokee Nation in the 19th Century was a result of slave labor. All the seminaries and schools of higher learning created by Cherokee industry were still dependent upon the institution of slavery up until the Civil War. Many people are uncomfortable with ambiguity and want things clearly defined. It is either yes or no. But this kind of thinking will not contribute to a much needed dialogue about race in this country. What is just and fair. Is it "us" against "them"? We need some healing here and within that context it is as much of an issue as past boarding school abuse and other acts of racism against Indian people.
Thursday, October 13, 2011 - 20:57