TAHLEQUAH — Principal Chief Chad Smith has moved a special election on a Constitutional amendment regarding citizenship to March 3.
In a news release from the Nation’s public information office, it was noted that Smith moved the election back three weeks from its original date of Feb. 10 to allow the Cherokee Nation Election Commission more time to prepare for the special election.
The special election results from a citizen’s petition asking for a vote on a Constitutional amendment that would limit citizenship in the Cherokee Nation to descendants of people who are listed on the Final Rolls of the Cherokee Nation as either Cherokee, Delaware or Shawnee, rather than non-Indian rolls — including the controversial Freedman rolls — taken at the same time.
The call-for-election petition has twice been affirmed valid by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court. The court has also ruled that the Principal Chief has the right to call a special election, as requested by the more than 2,100 Cherokee voters who signed the petition.
In March 2006, the Cherokee Nation’s highest court reversed a previous decision and ruled that the Cherokee Nation’s Constitution allowed citizenship for non-Indian descendants who were listed on the Dawes Rolls of the Cherokee Nation. Until that time,
membership had been restricted to those who had a Cherokee, Delaware
or Shawnee ancestor on the Dawes Rolls, and the proposed amendment mirrors that policy.
In the court ruling allowing non-Indian citizenship, the court noted that “the Cherokee citizenry has the ultimate authority to define tribal citizenship,” and suggested that, “the Constitution could be amended to require all tribal members to possess Cherokee blood.”
“The people have spoken clearly, demanding the right to decide this Constitutional issue for themselves,” Smith said. “Some of them believe that you should have to be an Indian to be in an Indian tribe. Others think we should have a policy that allows descendants of non-Indians who were affiliated with our tribe in the past to have citizenship. Regardless, this is obviously an issue that demands the attention of Cherokee voters.”
Marilyn Vann, president of a protesting Descendants of the Freedmans Association, continues to believe the issue is politically motivated.
Vann told a Tulsa World reporter last year that she stands to be disenrolled by the constitutional amendment supported by Chief Smith. Vann’s ancestor, Francis Hilderbrand McNatt was enrolled as a Cherokee freedmen by the Dawes Commission although her Dawes commission documentation states that her father Stephen Hilderbrand was a Cherokee Indian.
In a statement issued Sunday, Vann said, “Cherokee Chief Smith continues to lead a movement to remove freedmen tribal members from the rolls of registered voters prior to the June 2007 general elections. He has set a special election for March 3, 2007, to kick out the freedmen tribal members — both those with and without proofs of Indian ancestry.”
Vann and others contested the petition but were not allowed by the Courts to present evidence they say would have nullified some petition signatures.
“Individuals were prepared to testify that they had been told that freedmen did not have have Indian blood and that they would not have signed the petition if they had understood that freedmen tribal members can prove they have Indian ancestors,” Vann’s news release states. “An expert genealogy was prepared (but not allowed) to provide documented proofs of freedmen Indian blood compiled by the Dawes Commission for freedmen tribal members.”
Vann believes the proposed constitutional amendment will leave completely Caucasian people in the tribe and disenroll freedmen tribal members with Indian blood.