A deal between the Cherokee Nation and descendants of Freedmen was reached Tuesday, shortly before a federal court judge was expected to rule in the case wherein the Freedmen were stripped of their tribal citizenship.
According to a preliminary report on the Freedmen hearing in Washington D.C., the descendants of former slaves will be allowed to vote in the Sept. 24 election, and are hereby reinstated as citizens of Cherokee Nation. The balloting period for election will be extended to allow time for the Freedmen to properly vote.
The court gave both parties until 10 a.m. today to produce a written agreement.
CN Acting Principal Chief S. Joe Crittenden said the agreement allows Saturday’s election to move forward.
“We have an agreement in principle that allows our election to go forward on Saturday, and extends the time for walk-in voting to Oct. 8 to allow Freedmen to fully participate,” said Crittenden.
“When I was sworn in as chief, I swore to abide by the Cherokee Constitution and the U.S. Constitution,” said Crittenden. “I have asked Attorney General Diane Hammons to submit this order to the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court so that it may be recognized under tribal law. The main thing is to have an election that doesn’t violate tribal or federal law.”
Crittenden said the order should re-establish the “status quo” as it existed during the June and July elections. He said he is also extremely concerned about the federal funding that has been withheld.
“I hope the action today will allow those $33 million in HUD funds to be released,” said Crittenden.
“It’s a significant sum, and the people at the Cherokee Nation who work in housing programs will not have to worry about the funding or services to our people.”
Principal chief candidate and District 1 Tribal Councilor Bill John Baker views the development as weakening the tribe’s sovereignty, and blames former Principal Chief Chad Smith, who is also a candidate in Saturday’s election.
“First, Smith and his Supreme Court failed when they tried to steal the election from the Cherokee people, and in desperation, de- manded a new election,” said Baker. “Now after having six years to resolve the problem, they have bungled the Freedmen issue, and after spending a fortune of our money on their lawyers, we are back to where we started before the 2007 referendum. It’s truly time for Smith to go.”
Smith said the agreement violates the CN Supreme Court decision.
“The agreement in the federal court is in direct violation of the decision of the highest Cherokee Nation court that Freedmen are not citizens of the Cherokee Nation,” said Smith.
“Bill John Baker’s attorney threatened the Election Commission to get his Freedmen supporters the right to vote, and to get them special treatment in this election. Now, thanks to his running-mate Joe Crittenden, he has gotten his way at the expense of Cherokee Nation’s sovereignty and the will of the Cherokee people. It looks for all the world like Baker is willing to sell out the Cherokee Nation to the BIA and non-Indian Freedmen descendants for a few votes. The BIA has continued its longtime regime of extortion of the Cherokee Nation without any authority of law, and the Cherokee people need a chief who has a proven track record of standing up to the BIA to support our rights as a nation, not one who will back down at the first BIA threat.”
The Freedmen case is being heard by Judge Henry H. Kennedy, and on Tuesday, Freedmen filed supplemental documents in support of the motion for preliminary injunction.
The motion names Ken Salazar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior; the U.S. Department of the Interior; and S. Joe Crittenden in his official capacity as acting chief of the Cherokee Nation, as defendants.
The motion seeks to have the federal defendants barred from distributing funds to the Cherokee Nation, recognizing any Cherokee Nation election, and recognizing government-to-government relations with the Cherokee Nation.
Approximately 2,800 Freedmen were stripped of Cherokee Nation citizenship by the tribe’s Supreme Court on Aug. 22, which ruled a 2007 Constitutional amendment requiring citizens be able to trace a family member to the Dawes Rolls is valid.
Since then, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has denied the tribe $33 million in housing funding, and the Interior Department issued a letter stating it would no longer recognize any actions conducted by the tribe, presumably including the upcoming election.
Both agencies cite the Freedmen decision as the reason for action.