“There are Freedmen who can prove they have a full-blooded Cherokee grandfather who won’t be members,” said Ms. Vann, president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes. “And there are blond people who are 1/1000th Cherokee who are members.”
Mike Miller, the Cherokee Nation spokesman, agreed.
“We are aware that there are those who can prove Indian blood who are not Cherokee citizens, because they are not on the Dawes ‘by blood’ Rolls,” Mr. Miller said. “But I don’t know of a single tribe that determines citizenship through a bunch of sources.”
This is the second time in recent years that an Indian nation has tried to remove its Freedmen. The Seminole Freedmen won a similar legal battle in 2003.
The Seminoles were formed when refugees from several tribes joined with runaway slaves. But after the Seminoles denied their Freedmen voting rights and financial benefits, effectively abrogating the Treaty of 1866, the federal government refused to recognize the Seminoles as a sovereign nation.
The Cherokees are also risking their tribal sovereignty, said Jon Velie, a lawyer for the Seminole and Cherokee Freedmen.
“There is this racial schism in Indian Country that is growing and getting worse,” Mr. Velie said. “Even having the debate is the problem. You then become a lesser person because people get to decide whether you’re in or not.”
Taylor Keen, a Cherokee tribal council member who supports Freedmen citizenship, suggested that proponents of the amendment were pandering to racism, trying to score political points for when they run for tribal office in June.
“This is a sad chapter in Cherokee history,” Mr. Keen said. “But this is not my Cherokee Nation. My Cherokee Nation is one that honors all parts of her past.”
Never underestimate the power of bigotry.