US District Court Judge Upholds Treaty Rights for Cherokee Freedmen

Black Freedmen protest the BIA. NPR photo.

Published August 31, 2017

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the District of Columbia held an 1866 Treaty guarantees that the descendants of Cherokee freedmen “all the rights of native Cherokees, including the right to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation.”

The decision is part of case brought against the Cherokee Nation in 2003 by Freedmen descendants, who were black slaves owned by the members of the Cherokee Nation until after the Civil War.

The judge’s 78-page  opinion says the Cherokee Nation’s “sovereign right to determine its membership is no less now, as a result of this decision, than it was after the Nation executed the 1866 Treaty.”

“The Cherokee Nation can continue to define itself as it sees fit but must do so equally and evenhandedly with respect to native Cherokees and the descendants of Cherokee freedmen,” Hogan continued.

“This is a wonderful victory for the Freedmen who regained their identities as equal citizens in their nation. It is a victory against racial oppression and division. It is a win for Native Americans as the federal courts have enforced both treaty rights of citizenship while maintaining tribes’ and elected officials’ rights to determine citizenship and self-determination pursuant to law,” Lead Counsel for the Freedmen, John Velie of Norman commented.

The judge’s order says the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee freedmen have to confer and schedule  a status conference to explore further proceedings.

As of Wednesday evening, there was no official response from the Cherokee Nation to Wednesday’s ruling.


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