Freedmen (Black Indians, African Indian, Cherokee Freedmen) are descendants of slaves once held by the Cherokee Nation. Officially, the Freedman population is at 2,800, and 3,500 have pending status. It is estimated that 25,000 could qualify for Freedman status.


In 1838, Native Americans were forced out of the eastern U.S. in the Trails of Tears to northern Oklahoma. Cherokee Indians who owned plantations brought along their slaves. The Cherokee Nation fought on the side of  the Confederacy. After the Civil War, jurisdiction of the nation was maintained by the United States government. The Cherokee Nation was forced to abolish slavery in the1866 Treaty with the United States and made the Freedman citizens of the Cherokee Nation. In the Treaty, the Cherokee Nation was required to give a large portion of land to the federal government, on which non-Cherokee Indians could reside as citizens in the Cherokee Nation. Betwen 1867 to 1907, the Cherokee Freedmen could vote in Cherokee Nation elections and received payments per individual. In 1907, Oklahoma filed for statehood and the Cherokee Nation was dissolved. Land was alloted to individuals of the nation including the Cherokee Freedmen. When the nation was re-organized, Freedmen were accepted back as citizens. Later the nation started to change its policy and began to refer to Freedmen as non-Cherokee because according to the nation they were not indians. The 1976 Cherokee Constitution made the latter viewpoint policy. Freedmen have been fighting for full recognition of their rights ever since. 


In 2007, the Freedman were removed as members of the Cherokee Nation by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court. The decision effectively denied them tribal health benefits, educational service, and voting rights. The Descendants of the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, a Freedman's organization, filed a lawsuit on the grounds that the Cherokee Nation did not base its decision on the 1866 Treaty but on race. It has pointed out, the Delaware, a non-Cherokee native group, who has filed for separate Cherokee status, has retained Cherokee citizenship. The Department of the Interior filed a lawsuit on July 2, 2012 stating, the “position is, and has been, that the 1866 treaty ... vested Cherokee freedmen with rights of citizenship in the nation, including the right of suffrage.” The Cherokee Nation response was the treaty “did not guarantee to freedmen and their descendants eternal unimpeachable rights” to Cherokee citizenship.

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tags: black indian indians amerindian native american