Freedmen descendants begin applying for CN citizenship
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Following an Aug. 30 federal court ruling, descendants of Cherokee Freedmen have started applying for Cherokee Nation citizenship through the tribe’s Registration Office.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan’s ruling in the Cherokee Nation v. Nash, Vann and the Department of Interior case allows Freedmen descendants the same rights as CN citizens, such as applying for citizenship, using tribal services and running for political office.
Attorney General Todd Hembree said the tribe is processing Freedmen applications.
“We’re happy and relieved this longstanding case is finally resolved, and now we are moving forward processing applications as quickly as possible,” he said.
To be a CN citizen, applicants must provide documents proving they have a direct ancestor on the Dawes Final Rolls.
According to cherokee.org, the Dawes Rolls were taken between 1898-1907, with a handful being accepted in 1914. To be on the rolls, Cherokees had to live in Indian Territory during that time.
Sherelene Pratt, a Freedmen descendant from Tahlequah, said the judge’s ruling was a “major” breakthrough.
“I’m glad it’s finally over and we can go on and be citizens like our ancestors,” she said.
Pratt said her application is in the Registration Office, and since the ruling she has stayed in contact with the office, updating her information and checking on the process.
“They’ve been very, very helpful, very nice, very cordial every time I go in there. It might just be because they see me so often, but they’re very nice and helping with the information that you need,” she said. “Everybody’s history and family is specific to them. So what they may tell me or tell someone else may be different to somebody else. So you have to follow what they ask you to bring.”
She said she advises others who have submitted applications to make sure all of the information is correct and still on file.
“You just want to go ahead and make sure that your application didn’t get misplaced or lost somewhere in a file cabinet,” she said. “Some people may have to fill out a new application because it’s been so long ago.”
When asked about giving a number for Freedmen who could apply for citizenship, Jon Velie, lead counsel for the Freedmen cases, said he would only be speculating.
“Nobody knows that specifically. Tribe doesn’t know it. We don’t know it. Basically what we can do it is figure out at the time of the Dawes Act about 10 percent were Freedmen. So if Freedmen, I guess, grew at the same rate that the Cherokee by blood citizens did it would be 10 percent,” he said. “The number that we’ve all thrown around, not based on any scientific evidence, is probably around 25,000 total.”
As for the potential citizens’ locations, Velie said most he spoke lived within the CN jurisdiction.
“Over the 14 years I’ve known the Cherokee Freedmen I’ve meet with them in many different parts within the geographical boundaries of the Cherokee Nation, and some just outside,” he said. “I think I’ve met more that live within the Cherokee Nation than live outside of it, but obviously there’s some that live outside.”
Velie said he hasn’t heard of any incidents of Freedmen being denied when applying for citizenship since the federal court ruling.
“It seems that the Nation is healing and is moving forward in a very positive manner to include these citizens, and that so far it’s been a smooth transition,” he said. “Now, we’re still in the lawsuit. We’ve got to tidy it all up at the end, but I think that everything is going well so far. We’re very happy. The Freedmen I’ve talked to are excited to be included.”
With a potential influx of new citizens, CN Communications Director Amanda Clinton said tribal officials are not sure how it would affect services the Nation offers.
“Although the addition of Freedmen descendants as citizens will increase our population, we cannot presently determine the caseload or budgetary impact of these additional citizens. We will monitor our programs as our population changes, as we always have, and adjust accordingly if needed,” she said. “We are also advocating that federal agencies meet their obligations to fully fund our programs, including the taking into account increases in our population. Experience shows that Cherokee Nation enjoys strength in numbers. The inclusion of Freedmen descendant(s) as citizens can only make us a stronger Nation.”
According to a CN press release, Registration has set aside staff to work on Freedmen applications and is available to answer questions about the registration process.
Citizenship applications can be downloaded at www.cherokee.org/Services/Tribal-Citizenship or picked up at the Registration Office in the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex.
For more information, call 918-458-6980.
News Credit Source: Cherokee Phoenix