Marilyn Vann had lots to say to the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council at their June Council meeting, but she was not allowed to speak because she was not on the agenda.

The president of the Descendants of Freedmen Association, sent a copy of her planned comments to the Daily Progress. She believes some members of the Tribal Council along with other Cherokees are being misled regarding the proposed constitutional amendment excluding Freedman from the Cherokee Nation “and the uniqueness of it.”

Vann said should the freedmen rights go to a vote, it will not be the first time Cherokees have addressed the subject as some Nation leaders have publicly stated.

“The freedmen people’s citizenship rights was a matter of discussion during the 1999 constitution – debate in which all of the delegates understood at that time that the freedmen people had citizenship rights under the proposed constitution; in fact the citizenship provisions of the Cherokee Nation are basically unchanged from 1975,” Vann said.

Vann offers several court cases, expert opinions and other documents to support her claims.

Her claims are countered by Cherokee leader John Ketcher who claims freedmen rights were “forced” upon the Cherokees through government treaties which were not honored.

Ketcher said the government made promises to the Cherokees they did not keep. “They said as long as the grass shall grow and the streams shall run ... The U.S. government must of thought the grass all dried up and the creeks dried up,” Ketcher said.

Still, Vann believes the rush to bring the issue to vote — both through the call for a special election and through the initiative petition process — is being fostered by fears of some elected officials that freedmen citizens will not support them at the polls during the next election cycle.

Tribal Council representative Cara Cowan-Watts had a similar perspective on the matter. E-mails shared by Cowan-Watts, in her opinion, indicate the movement to register freedmen voters is being promoted by opponents to the administration of Principal Chief Chad Smith and Smith’s supporters.

In the meantime, Vann said the freedmen Association will continue to re-register freedmen people as tribal members and to reregister them as voters.

“As you may or may not know, even those Cherokee freedmen citizens who were recognized as tribal members and voting during the 1970s must still re-register, even if they still have their old membership cards,” Vann said. She said no firm numbers of registered freedmen is available.

Cowan-Watts voted in favor of a special election at last week’s Council meeting to decide the freedmen’s citizenship status as quickly as possible.

The resolution failed 8-7 at last week’s Tribal Council meeting. It required a two-thirds majority. A vote on a proposed constitutional amendment requiring proof of Indian blood traceable to the Final Rolls of the Cherokee Nation, commonly referred to as the Dawes Rolls, will possibly be delayed until July 2007 during regularly scheduled tribal elections.

Cowan-Watts and other Council members — Buel Anglen, William G. Johnson, Jackie Bob Martin, Meredith Frailey, Melvina Shotpouch and Don Garvin — supported spending the extra dollars a special election would cost.

Opposing the special election was Audra Smoke-Connor, Phyllis Yargee, Bill John Baker, Charles “Chuck” Hoskin, David W. Thorton, St., S. Joe Crittenden, Linda Hughes O’Leary and Johnny Keener.

Supporters of a special election may still get their wish if an initiative petition now being circulated throughout the Nation receives enough signatures by mid-August.

The Indian-by-blood controversy was brought to the forefront in March when the Cherokee Nation Judicial Appeals Tribunal ruled descendants of black Freedmen (freed slaves who lived with the Cherokee Tribe during the 1800s) must be recognized as having full rights to tribal membership and services.

Cowan-Watts has vocalized her support for an "open vote" on the matter. She stated publicly at the June meeting of the Rogers County Cherokee Association that she believes Cherokee Nation citizens should be allowed to determine future citizenship rights regardless of past practices.

John Ketcher, former deputy chief and council member, has also spoken out in support of limiting citizenship rights to just those with proven Indian blood as recorded in the Dawes Rolls.

Ketcher, Tahlequah, along with Jody Fishinghawk, Stilwell, are proponents of the current initiative petition which states: “Notwithstanding any provisions of the Cherokee Nation Constitution approved on October 2, 1975, and the Cherokee Nation Constitution ratified by the people on July 26, 2003, upon passage of this Amendment, thereafter, citizenship of the Cherokee Nation shall be limited to those originally enrolled on, or descendants of those enrolled on, the Final Rolls of the Cherokee Nation, commonly referred to as the Dawes Rolls, for those listed as Cherokees by blood, Delaware Cherokees pursuant to Article II of the Delaware Agreement dated the 8th day of May, 1867, and the Shawnee Cherokees pursuant to Article III of the Shawnee Agreement dated the 9th day of June, 1869.”

Both proponents and opponents to the constitutional amendment have said they will be providing public forums and educational meetings on the Freedmen issue in the near future.

Contact Clarice Doyle, cdoyle@cnhi.com