Magazine article The Crisis

Black Native Americans Fight for Recognition

Magazine article The Crisis

Black Native Americans Fight for Recognition

Article excerpt

Faith Johnson-Russell is proud of her Native American heritage. Her great-grandparents were horn into the Cherokee Nation and were buried in the tribal cemetery. Her mother was half Cherokee, and her father half Chickasaw. The family's ancestors were Freedmen, descendants of African slaves once owned by Cherokees. The Freedmen were not only part of the infamous Trail of Tears that displaced so many Native Americans, but they also helped build the tribe. In an 1866 treaty, the Cherokee Nation made the Freedmen citizens.

Today, however, Johnson-Russell's rich heritage is being threatened. She and nearly 3,000 other Freedmen were ceremoniously voted out of the Cherokee Nation during a special election in March. Members agreed to amend the tribe's constitution to limit citizenship to descendants of "by blood" tribe members. The amendment states that it will take away citizenship from those who are descendants of those on either the Dawes Commission's Intermarried Whites or Freedmen rolls.

"I think what Chad Smith has done is so unfair... because he is trying to say the Freedmen do not have Indian blood," says Johnson-Russell, 57.

According to reports, Smith, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, said the members' "voice is clear as to who should be citizens of the Cherokee Nation."

"No one else has the right to make that determination," Smith told the Associated Press.

Most recently, the Oklahoma Black Caucus joined the Freedmen in a rally to overturn the Cherokee Nation's vote. The controversy has also drawn the attention of the Oklahoma NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). …

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