Black Caucus Seeks Federal Action on Cherokee Vote

Associated Press
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Black leaders in Congress asked the federal government yesterday to weigh in on the legality of a vote by the Cherokee Nation earlier this month to revoke citizenship from descendants of former tribal slaves.

Saying they were "shocked and outraged," more than two dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus signed a letter to the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs questioning the "validity, legality, as well as the morality" of the March 3 vote.

"The black descendant Cherokees can trace their Native American heritage back in many cases for more than a century," said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.). "They are legally a part of the Cherokee Nation through history, precedent, blood and treaty obligations."

More than 76 percent of those casting ballots in the special election voted to amend the tribal constitution to limit citizenship to descendants of "by blood" tribe members, removing an estimated 2,800 freedmen descendants.

Mike Miller, a Cherokee Nation spokesman, said the vote was simply a move by the tribe to restrict its rolls to members with known Cherokee descent. He said it had nothing to do with racism.

Miller also said courts have repeatedly upheld tribes' rights to determine their own citizenship.

"There has not been federal involvement, nor is it proper," he said.

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