Since 2005, I have been following the story of the Cherokee Freedmen. The Freedmen are the descendants of Cherokee slaves, and there has been a move afoot to strip the Freedmen of their voting and citizenship rights. They have been living, intermarrying, and actively participating in the nation for well over 100 years. What first drew me to this story was the fascinating racial dynamics of the story; in particular I was interested in how whiteness and blackness were influencing the definition of who is/isn’t Cherokee. However, since I started following the story more actively over the past several months, I discovered some of the other issues beyond the racial identity dynamics. The other elephant in the room is the corrupt government of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (CNO), which is currently under the leadership of Chad Smith. The ploy to remove the Cherokee Freedmen is just one of the many tactics that Smith and his predecessors have used to solidify their own power.
The upcoming June 23rd election pits Smith (Principal Chief) and Joe Grayson (Deputy Chief) against Stacy Leeds (Principal Chief) and Raymond Vann (Deputy Chief) . Leeds was the first woman Justice on the Cherokee Supreme court, and she wrote the decision that initially prevented the Freedmen from being ousted from the CNO. Leeds is also a law professor.
Chad Smith and his political allies have shown many signs that they do not like to play fair. For example, recently the Tribal Council passed a last minute proposed Constitutional Amendment for the June 23rd ballot. The problem–many absentee voters have already received their ballots, and the time to pursue necessary debate on the subject is minimal. But this is just one more misdeed in a long list for Smith. Smith and company are well connected Republicans, and Smith has even been connected to the likes of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.1 Then, of course, there is his decision to work to disenroll the Cherokee Freedmen. With a relatively small percentage of the CNO voting, the Freedmen were disenrolled. However, thanks to court injunctions the Freedmen will still be able to vote in this election. Having followed this for a while what seems clear is that Smith and company are much more concerned about cronyism and keeping themselves in power. They don’t demonstrate a respect for the rule of law and Constitutional politics, and they are bankrolled by big Republican money.
As we’ve discussed before, this decision threatens to undermine the tribal sovereignty of the CNO, and the tension between the CNO and the Congressional Black Caucus is rapidly building. I’m confident that most people of the CNO are not corrupt, anti-black racists. You don’t have to look far to find people like Stacy Leeds, John Cornsilk, David Cornsilk, my blog friend The Local Crank, the bloggers at Wampum and professor Steve Russell, who believe that the Cherokee Nation is a strong multiracial Nation.2 It was a very small minority of the Cherokee citizens who voted to disenroll the Freedmen (the turn out for the election was atrocious).
In contrast to her opponent, Stacy Leeds is the progressive candidate. She is pro-choice; she not underwritten by the Republican party; and she supports the rule of (Constitutional) law. She supports women rights and has been active in the effort to prevent violence against women. Leeds doesn’t believe that race should be the basis for citizenship, and she has several other progressive elements to her platform, which you can read here.
Chad Smith and his cronies have tried to find every way possible to subvert the rule of law, and they need to be stopped. It looks like a Stacy Leeds administration will be able to do that.
Other Cherokee Election Links
A Link to my Previous Cherokee Posts
Wampum is very closly following the election.
On June 15th at 6PM The Cherokee Phoenix is hosting a Debate; the debate can be seen on the Cherokee Phoenix website www.cherokee.org
- I don’t know if Smith was directly involved in any of Abramoff’s misdeeds, but what is relevant is that these are the types of folks with whom Smith associates. [↩]
- Earlier Temple 3 commented saying, “I believe the Cherokee nation has a right to self-determination – just as Africans do in the US and beyond. I suppose I need to hear more of the consequences, and there could be many. After all, I don’t suspect that those rolls were 100% correct…that would be impossible. So, what’s the appeal process? How does that work?” I can’t comment on exactly how the appeal works–I do have some Cherokee legal folks who read this site, who may be able to explain the details. The Cherokees do have a Constitution, and much of this is related to what appears to be Smith’s desire to change the Constitution to fit his political needs. I personally believe that citizenship in a nation should not be based on race, and the closest analogy to this case I can think of would be if the US decided that our black citizens were no longer citizens. [↩]