A federal court ruled Wednesday that the Cherokee tribe could move forward with an election, despite the protests of the tribe's Freedmen members, court records show.
According to a motion handed down by the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, the Cherokees can hold the election -- slated for June 23 -- despite the fact that only a small number of the Freedmen, which are descendents of the tribe's African-American slaves held before the U.S. Civil War, will be able to register to vote, according to a Freedman official.
The court ruled that the vote may move forward because it was lawfully approved by the U.S. Secretary of Interior, which has the authority over the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Nevertheless, the court acknowledged that the Cherokee recently disenfranchised the Freedmen, and that they court ruled they have to be allowed to vote.
"The instant motion is considered against the backdrop of the most significant recent activity involving the Cherokee Nation and its Freedmen citizens. In March 2007, the Cherokee Nation by a referendum, inter alia, stripped the Freedmen of their rights as citizens of the Nation. On May 14, 2007, after the Freedmen filed the instant motion, the District Court of the Cherokee Nation issued a temporary injunction ordering the Nation to "immediately reinstate to full citizenship within the Cherokee Nation the Plaintiffs and all similarly situated persons commonly known as the 'Cherokee Freedmen,' " Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., wrote.
Freedmen Association attorney Jon Velie said the Freedmen must abide with the decision but that there is not enough time to register significant numbers to vote.
"There are Freedmen applications from August that haven't been considered," said Velie. "The actions of the Cherokee have reduced the Freedmen number of eligible voters. It's clear that Freedmen are not allowed to participate adequately in this electoral process. Only 1,000 of the 25,000 Freedmen who are eligible for citizenship will get to vote."
Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith lauded the judge's decision.
"Judge Kennedy showed great wisdom in his decision. We have said that this group's effort to stop the election was a remedy in search of a wrong, as all eligible non-Indian Freedmen citizens of the Cherokee Nation can vote in this election," said Smith.