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Power of the purse


Gazette staff September 14th, 2011

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave an “oh no you didn’t!” to the Cherokee Nation after the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court told a group of tribal members that they no longer belonged to the tribe.

The descendants of freedmen of the Cherokee Nation, who are mostly black, recently were declared to be ineligible for tribal membership following a years-long court fight.

A separate case is currently going on in federal court and has yet to be decided.

These freedmen are the descendants of former slaves owned by the tribes, and freedmen were declared citizens of the tribe following the Civil War. Many claim mixed ancestry. However, many tribes, including the Cherokee Nation, recently changed their enrollment requirements for potential members to show blood quantums, and because many freedmen descendants’ ancestors were listed on separate tribal rolls that do not show blood quantum, they were unable to enroll.

In late August, the tribal Supreme Court ruled that the freedmen who had enrolled and had tribal membership prior to a voter-approved Cherokee Nation Constitutional amendment limiting tribal membership to those who can show blood quantum were not members of the tribe.

Of course, the ruling came shortly after a close (and still undecided) election between challenger Bill John Baker and incumbent Principal Chief Chad Smith, who was one of the main promoters of the blood quantum requirements. About 2,800 tribal mem bers who were considered freedmen descendants were kicked out, about a month before another election between Baker and Smith — a move we’re sure had nothing to do with the upcoming election.

However, when Cherokee officials reportedly tried to draw $33 million from the tribe’s account with HUD on Aug. 31, they essentially were told “no can do.”

Following the decision, Deputy Assistant HUD Secretary Jereon Brown told the Tulsa World, “HUD has suspended disbursements to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma while we seek additional guidance on an unclear statute involving the freedmen.”

 
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