Shortsighted and Wrong
I am a big admirer of Chad Corntassel Smith, the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. When he stood up to the corrupt dictatorial former Chief Joe Byrd in 1997, defying his attempts to overthrow the Cherokee Supreme Court, I saw Smith as a Cherokee version of Boris Yeltsin, standing on a tank in Red Square. But now he's dead wrong. The same Supreme Court he saved recently ruled that the Freedmen, the descendants of black slaves formerly owned by Cherokee who were granted tribal citizenship in 1866, must be allowed to enroll as members of the tribe under the current 1975 constitution. Chief Smith is now supporting amending the constitution to exclude the Freedmen or even calling a constitutional convention to reverse the Court's decision. Chief Smith's comments that the Freedmen "haven't helped to build the nation" sounds dangerously close to racism, not to mention an unconcious repeat of arguments made by white Americans against making Indians US Citizens. Moreover, his attitude ignores the ugly and often overlooked fact that wealthy Cherokee landowners not only owned slaves, but brought them with them on ge-tsi-ka-hv-da a-ne-gv-i, the Trail of Tears. The Freedmen froze in the winter and burned in the summer, slept on the ground, were starved and beaten and cheated along the way to the Indian Territory, just like their Cherokee masters. After the Civil War, the freed slaves were granted Cherokee citizenship, admittedly on the orders of the Federal Government, angry that Cherokee leaders like Stand Watie and (reluctantly) John Ross had supported the Confederacy. Through their suffering, both as slaves and as fellow victims of the Trail of Tears, the Freedmen have earned the right to call themselves Cherokee. Chief Smith and Tribal Council should honor that.