A recent decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to extend federal services to descendants of African slaves who are members of the Seminole Nation, also known as Seminole Freedmen, could help a case involving Cherokee Freedmen who were not allowed to vote in tribal elections this year, according to the Cherokee Freedmen's attorney.
A group of those Cherokee Freedmen banded together in August in a civil lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior, which is responsible for the BIA.
"It's a little bit up in the air," Marilyn Vann Click, president of the Descendents of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association based in the Oklahoma City area, said about the case.
Click is joined in the suit with Cherokee Freedmen Hattie Cullers of Sapulpa, Ronald Moon of Illinois, Donald Moon of California, Ralph Threat of Fort Gibson, and Charlene White of Tahlequah. Click said the group, who is represented by attorney Jon Velie of Velie & Velie in Norman, have entered into negotiations with the BIA.
Velie said the plaintiffs are direct descendents of individuals enrolled on Dawes Commission Rolls of the Cherokee Tribe.
"At the moment, there's no definite resolution," Click said. "The case is stayed as far as further litigation."
The lawsuit stemmed from the freedmen not being allowed to vote in the May 24 Cherokee election and subsequent runoff elections. The BIA did not object to the elections or an amendment to the tribal constitution that would allow tribal elections to be official without federal approval.
Freedmen are descendants of emancipated slaves who lived with the Cherokees during the Civil War. They were granted the rights of native Cherokees under an 1866 treaty signed by the tribe and the United States. The treaty contained the provision that all freedmen who were liberated and their descendents should have the rights of native Cherokees.
In the Seminole Freedmen case, the BIA cut off federal funds because of an election that did not allow freedmen to vote. The BIA based their decision on cases that revolved around the 1866 treaty. The BIA has since granted recognition to the freedmen and has opened up benefits to all members of the Seminole Nation.
Mike Miller, Cherokee Nation spokesperson, said the history of the Seminole tribe is very different from the history of the Cherokees.
"In a nut shell, I don't think there's any similarities," Miller said.
Miller would not comment on the differences between the Seminole and Cherokee Freedmen cases because of current litigation and the Cherokee Nation is not involved in the litigation. He said that the last case involving the Seminole Freedmen was thrown out of court, and the Cherokee case against the BIA is very similar to that case.
For a complete news report, see the Nov. 6 edition of Your TIMES.