Sunday, August 26, 2018

Why Shouldn't the CBC Dedicate Itself to Defunding Indians and Israel Alike?

WaPo  |  About US is a new initiative by The Washington Post to cover issues of identity in the United States. Look for the About US newsletter launching this fall.

A decade after the Cherokee Nation voted overwhelmingly to deny citizenship for descendants of the people it enslaved, a district court judge has invalidated the tribe’s decision. The Cherokee Nation has long argued that only those with Cherokee blood should be citizens — excluding the descendants of its black slaves — and a legal ruling otherwise would be an affront to its sovereignty and self-determination. Journalist Kenneth J. Cooper disagrees and is gathering evidence to show he and his relatives are among the estimated 3,000 living descendants of Cherokee Freedmen and deserve citizenship. (Leaders of the freedmen’s group have said as many as 25,000 descendants could be eligible to apply for citizenship.) Cooper explains why this part of his family’s identity deserves formal recognition:

I’m preparing to order certified copies of birth certificates: seven of my grandmother’s from Oklahoma, seven of my mother’s from Kansas, and 10 from Colorado, where I was born.
I’m getting them to enroll myself, my siblings and our nieces as citizens of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. My birth certificate and my siblings’ identify both our parents, in the language of that bygone era, as “Negro.”

So why are we, African Americans, seeking citizenship in a Native American nation?

Two weeks ago, Thomas F. Hogan, a senior U.S. district court judge in D.C., ruled that descendants of the former slaves of the Cherokee — yes, the Cherokee had black slaves, an unusual bit of American history most people don’t know — were entitled to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation under a treaty signed in 1866.

On my mother’s side, some of our ancestors were enslaved by prosperous Cherokee. Our family’s history with the Cherokee Nation goes back at least 200 years, to the early 1800s, in Georgia and North Carolina. The history of the Cherokee Freedmen and the Cherokee Nation are intertwined, a point Hogan makes in his opinion.

The lawsuit that led to Hogan’s ruling was prompted by a 2007 referendum that kicked the freedmen out of the tribe, a move supported by the great majority of Cherokee who voted. That summer, I confronted then-Chief Chad Smith, who orchestrated the referendum, at a panel discussion on the issue at the Unity: Journalists of Color convention in Chicago. I spoke angrily because of a comment Smith made to The Washington Post: “A lot of Cherokees don’t know who the freedmen are.” I read that as trying to erase slave-holding and my family from the tribe’s history.

Through a decade of genealogical research, I have identified my enslaved ancestors and most of their Cherokee slaveholders. One of those ancestors for sure, and likely two, Thomas Still and Malinda Thompson, separately trekked with the Cherokee on the “Trail of Tears.” Under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Army soldiers forced that tribe and others from the southeast to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, so white settlers could take over their lands.