Freedmen controversy, what's your stance?

Anonymous's picture

(This may belong in the Land rights/Treaty Rights section but I'm not too sure if it really needs/should be there)
Ok so how do you feel about the 5 civilized tribes ( Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw) tribes dispelling their Freedmen citizens? Do you support that? Or do you think that they should be able to be enrolled tribal members just like members by blood?
I fully support tribal sovereignty but I do not know if I fully support those tribes decisions in doing these things, so I would like to hear how everybody feels about this issue.


hidden history and our ongoing battle with colonization

sundance's picture


Rob, I support the sovereignty of Native Nations but I also recognize the rights of the dispossessed, regardless of whom they may be. In the case of the Cherokee Freedmen, we are dealing with a racist ideology which is the working of colonization.

The Cherokee Nation has never been "Cherokee by Blood" — there is no such thing as "Cherokee blood" and neither Cherokees nor American Indians are "races" of people. The fact of the matter has been that native people in this country and native people from Africa have, since Jamestown, inter-married and inter-mingled.

This is just as true for the rest of the continent where there are countless examples of Africans and Indians living together throughout this hemisphere. Why?

There are also countless examples of treaties with Europeans, Anglos especially, that call for the return of "Blacks" or "Slaves" by Indians as a consequence of peace — yet there are no documented examples that I can find where Indians actually returned any "Blacks". Why?

Why? Because our ancestors understood that "race" was a fictitious concept — its sole purpose being to make it easier for Europeans to divide us into groups of subhumans and take our land; our ancestors agreed to return "Blacks" with the tacit understanding that there was no such thing... just as they did not consider themselves "Indian" they did not consider native Africans, or runaway slaves, to be "Black". This is fact. There are few books now that shed some light on this hidden part of history; one that I recommend is "Black Indian" by William Loren Katz. If you overlook the obvious misnomer in the title you will come to understand that our ancestors recognized that indigenous peoples have more in common with each other than we do with European colonizers, and we chose to live together based on that understanding, and as resistance to colonization.

That the Cherokees kept slaves is also part of this. It is as if "erasing" the Freedmen from the Cherokee roles will somehow erase the history of slaveholding by Cherokees. Now I have read a number of accounts of Cherokee "slaveholding" and also remember what my elders told me. As I understand it, the only way a "black" person could live with Cherokees was by being a "slave" due to relations with the colonizers as I mentioned earlier. Yet by all accounts these "slaves" kept their own homes, property, made their own familial decisions, practiced their own customs and were treated like members of the nation. This being the case, who can say for sure that Africans were "enslaved"? Perhaps they were only "slaves" when Anglos were around? I have not seen any documented evidence to lead me to believe otherwise (though I am open to there being some). Similarly, I read an account and saw a photograph of an "albino" Hopi person from the late 1800s I believe; at least to Anglo anthropologists this person was portrayed as "an albino Hopi" yet looking at the photograph this person clearly was European (and considered to be Hopi by the Hopi). Apparently the Hopi thought it best to conceal this information from outside observers....

In the final analysis, the Cherokee Nation certainly has the right to make mistakes like every other group. One would hope that the day would return where the Dawes Roll, and other racial documents drawn up by the colonizer, is not the "definitive" indicator of who is Cherokee or otherwise native. "Cherokee by blood" makes as much sense as "full-blooded Seminole".

I was watching this

robknowsbest's picture


I was watching this documentary called "black slaves, red masters" and it talked about some people who were owned by the 5 civilized tribes.

And yes you're right, excluding the descendents of black freedmens will most certainly not erase the history. I do hope that freedmen descendents can gain recognition again, it will help them be able to connect back to their roots and who they are.

And yes hopefully not, maybe one day blood quantum and other requirements will be erased and no longer required to gain enrollment into a nation, it was a tool created by Europeans to decrease and separate the Indigenous people. I for one am hoping to finish up all my genealogical research and get enrolled, unfortunately it's not quite easy, especially when you have such a mixture of many different ethnicities in you. Also when you have some family who are not so accepting of certain lines in the family.

Lastly you said "One would hope that the day would return where the Dawes Roll, and other racial documents drawn up by the colonizer, is not the "definitive" indicator of who is Cherokee or otherwise native." How else would you be able to be part of the nation then? I'm not saying that I disagree, I'm just puzzled on how someone who would be able to be part of the nation if they can't prove that they had an ancestor who was listed on a document. It is unfortunate though that there are many people who are of American Indian descent and they cannot gain tribal enrollment (at least at this time) due to family not being on certain roles, not being born on the rez, or not meeting the blood quantum requirement. For those people that do not meet all of these new criteria they are just considered descendents or perhaps "wannabes" and not Indian themselves.

How does any nation convey citizenship?

sundance's picture


Rob, the Dawes Roll was specifically designed to determine who was "Indian" and who was "Negro". In the case of the Cherokee (and Muskogee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole) people, there were other rolls created previously by the occupier for other purposes and these rolls also existed to limit who may receive benefits due under the classification of "American Indian". In the case of the Dawes Roll particularly, such benefits were in the form of allotments of reservation lands to be doled equally among reservation citizens — destroying common ownership of land (as was tradition) in an effort to assimilate Natives into American society. Conveniently enough, any Indian land left over after allotment was sold to Americans.

Dawes and his cronies were certainly selective in determining who was "Cherokee" et al. and removed a number of families who were previously classified as such from his roll; some of these families were later re-classified as "Freedmen" while other families were removed altogether because many could not satisfy the blood-quantum requirement that the Dawes Commission set or did not meet residency requirements. Still others refused to be documented, and yet others were documented by force.

I will check out that link you posted.

A good history of the Dawes Roll online can be found at the Oklahoma Historical Society website:

A good book can be found listed in the Indigenous Bookshelf Project entitled And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes by Angie Debo. (Sorry, have not gotten to writing a review of it yet.)

Many Native Nations used (and continue to use) the Dawes Roll, even though its genocidal aim to assimilate and destroy the Nations and Native peoples was clearly stated. Can you imagine if such a document existed that was the sole determinant of who was eligible to vote or who could go to the hospital to receive "subsidized" care or who could buy a home in a certain neighborhood in the USA? Today, in the nations of the world that we consider to be respectful of human rights, citizenship and the rights thereof are conveyed by birth within the borders of a nation. This was sort of the point of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People... to insist that indigenous peoples are treated as citizens of nations (even though we supersede the "Nation-State" both temporally and in legal ownership of the land). Additionally, as in the USA, to some nations you can immigrate, study, take a test and become a legal citizen... why not to Cherokeeland and Muskogeeland and Seminoleland?

Again, I support the right of Native Nations to make mistakes, but I balance this with the understanding that national boundaries do not supersede the rights of people, and as people we have to constantly fight the historically oppressive (some would say "inherently oppressive") nature of the Nation-State... if we let any nation oppress people that is fuel for other nations to follow suit. Look at the "War On Terror" if you have any doubt....

The colonizers stealing the identities of the Indigenous people

robknowsbest's picture


Ya I remember reading about how alot of freedmen were technically Cherokee, Choctaw, etc.. but were marked down as freedmen due to the fact that they may of been mixed or they were slaves even though they did have the ancestry and cultural connection. It's sad that in this world we have to prove who we are. We shouldn't have to prove to anybody, especially our oppressors that we are Indian people. We should be accepted not by "blood quantum" or who was listed on a roll, but by who is culturally connected to their people? There are so many people who claim to have American Indian ancestry and try to get enrolled but they only care about it for the "benefits" and because maybe they think it's cool and it's really sad. They should try to get connected with their people and try to help their people out and not just worry about the money.