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Congressional members meet with BIA about Freedmen

Tulsa, Oklahoma (AP) 3-08

Members of Congress plan to send a letter to the director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs seeking clarification on the status of the Cherokee Nation Freedmen descendants and why the agency has not done more to end the controversy.

Four lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Diane Watson, met during late March with BIA director Carl Artman.

Watson, D-Calif., has been the most vocal congressional critic of the Cherokee Nation and its efforts to deny citizenship to descendants of former slaves. She said the tribe and the BIA need more oversight on the issue and told the Tulsa World’s Washington bureau that she is concerned the Freedmen descendants are being treated as temporary members of the tribe.

They are not being issued cards they could use to receive certain benefits, she said.

“From what I understand they haven’t issued one,” Watson said.

A tribe spokesman said the descendants still have access to services.

Another issue raised at the meeting with Artman involved what some see as different approaches by the BIA on the issue with the Cherokee and Seminole nations.

Watson has introduced legislation to strip the Cherokee Nation of its federal funding to get the tribe to give up on its efforts to rescind citizenship of the Freedmen descendants.

Last year, nearly 77 percent of Cherokee voters decided in a special election to amend the nation’s constitution to remove the Freedmen descendants and other non-Indians from tribal rolls.

Critics of the vote, however, noted that only 9,000 of the tribe’s 270,000 membership cast ballots.

Critics of the vote, however, noted that only 9,000 of the tribe’s 270,000 membership cast ballots.

Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee; and Mel Watt, D-N.C., a key player on the issue for the Congressional Black Caucus, also attended the meeting with Artman.

Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for Artman, confirmed that the meeting with the four lawmakers took place but said some of the issues raised by the lawmakers should be addressed by the Cherokee Nation.

As for the Seminole Nation, Darling said that tribe sued the BIA over the Freedmen descendants issue and did not have its own court system, unlike the Cherokee Nation.

Last year, Artman said an 1866 treaty between the United States and the Cherokee Nation affirmed the citizenship rights of the Freedmen, adding that the government would consider taking the tribe to court to make sure it lives up to that treaty.

Cherokee Nation spokesman Mike Miller said the 2,867 Freedmen descendants who were reinstated last year pending the outcome of ongoing litigation continue to receive health care and other services. They also have the right to vote, Miller said.

“CDIB cards are given out by the U.S. government,” he said. “Only people who can show documentation of degrees of Indian blood can receive them by federal law.”

 

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