The Cherokee Tribe is in an interesting confrontation with the federal government over the right of the tribe to ban 2,800 African Americans from its citizenship rolls. Joe Crittenden, the tribe’s acting principal chief, insists that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has challenged the sovereignty of the tribe and “The Cherokee Nation will not be governed by the BIA.”
The confrontation was triggered when so called “Cherokee Freedmen” were excluded from the September 24 Cherokee election. BIA Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk wrote the tribe to warn that such an exclusion would result in an invalid election in the eyes of the BIA.
According to the article below, many of these black members are the descendants of wealthy Cherokee who owned black slaves for work on their plantations in the South. When the tribe was forced to relocate in the 1830s, many took their slaves. The Cherokee actually fought for the South, but after the Civil War a treaty with the United States was signed in 1866 guaranteeing tribal citizenship for the freed slaves.
That was until last month when the Cherokee Supreme Court voted to support the right of tribal members to change the tribe’s constitution on citizenship matters– requiring Cherokee Freedmen to prove that they have a Cherokee blood relation.
In Johnson v. M’Intosh, 21 U.S. (8 Wheat.) 543 (1823), Chief Justice Marshall lays out the basis for aboriginal title in the United States. Then in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 30 U.S. 1 (1831), ruled that the Court did not have jurisdiction in a land dispute since original jurisdiction rested with the Cherokee were a dependent nation.