The Cherokee-Freedman Controversy (America in Red and Black)

This article about the Cherokee-Freedman controversy was written and submitted by our very own GoddessMaverick.

Hello Everyone at the Blasian Narrative,

I go by GoddessMaverick and you’ve probably seen me in the comments section of some of the posts. Well, after the post about the mistreatment of multiracial children by POC and the mention of Radmilla Cody I was reminded of the Cherokee – Freedmen situation. I use “situation” lightly as this event has caused a rift in the Cherokee tribe that keeps tearing until the point of a chasm. I’ll try to be objective about this to a point before directly asserting my position. Sorry if my writing style is a bit choppy, I’m writing this in between tattoos at my new job.

For those completely new to this topic, I’ll explain. There had always been slaves in the Cherokee tribe even prior to contact with Europeans. This was of course not the chattel system that would come to be implemented but instead enslaved those captured in war who would eventually be adopted and worked into the tribe or released after their time was served. It wasn’t until the 19th century that African slaves were held by tribe members. They eventually came to hold the most slaves of the “Five Civilized Tribes” but the slave-owners were usually that of mixed ancestry. The treatment of the slaves and freedmen wasn’t much different from the European way. They were beaten, refused the right to bear arms, and barred from marrying within the tribe. Despite this 1,600 Freedmen walked the Trail of Tears with tribe members.

On July 18, 1866 after the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, the Cherokee Nation (with some urging from the Feds) created a treaty that gave the freedmen of the tribe full citizenship into the nation. This gave them all rights “Cherokee by blood” had if they chose to stay within the tribe. They could now vote, sell their wares, and pretty much live their life in “peace” within the tribe. This gave them an advantage over Freedmen of whites and they were able to establish successful lives with little more ease.

Then there were the Dawes Rolls of 1902, which was the government’s way of further assimilating the indigenous people of the U.S. by converting tribal lands into individual ownership. They also recorded the names and lineage of all those on the land. Freedmen were classified as such even if they had Cherokee blood (remember this). There had been rolls prior to this but as of today the Dawes Rolls are the only ones deemed valid by the Cherokee Nation (the U.S.’s largest federally recognized Cherokee tribe). To make it simple, according to the CN if you’re not on the rolls you’re not a member of the tribe and therefore if descendants cannot make a direct connection to a relative who was written on the Rolls they’re not in the tribe and they’re not getting benefits of being in the tribe.

The beginning of the efforts to block the descendants of Freedmen began in 1983 Ross O. Swimming, then principal chief who stated that there had to be CDIB (Certificate of Degree of Indian blood) cards to vote in the elections that year. They were blocked from the polls during the vote for council on the grounds that because their ancestors were listed as Freedmen on the Dawes Rolls they didn’t have Cherokee blood and therefore they could not obtain CDIB’s. This was expanded by Wilma P. Mankiller who became chief after Swimmer. She made an executive order that required a CDIB card of all existing members of the Cherokee Nation which would remove the entirety of Freedmen descendants from the tribe.

The battle between the Freedmen and the Cherokee Nation has been bitter to say the least with a series of appeals from both sides. The Freedmen were put on a roller coaster of reinstatement and removal for more than two decades including an amendment to have their names removed from the Dawes Rolls. As of January 14, 2011 tribal district court judge John Cripps has deemed the amendment invalid as it is a direct violation of the 1866 treaty.

The Cherokee Freedmen are mostly unknown to society. Even many Cherokee tribe members, myself and sadly some tribal council members, had no idea that there was such a group until the controversy. This is, in the opinion of many Freedmen descendants, due to the systematic elimination by the main Cherokee Nation Officials. The CN states that its removal of the Freedmen is to protect the sovereignty of the tribe.

As for my opinion:
This is and will always be about race. There are members of the Cherokee Nation who have little to no Cherokee blood in them and they will not be questioned because they are not black. The same views that allowed the Cherokees to keep slaves with the indignity and cruelty of the American chattel system is embedded enough that many do not want to see rights and money that was “meant for them” be allotted to others despite a common history and often times a more common ancestry.

Many members of the Freedmen descendants and the Freedmen supporters believe it’s the greed of the Cherokee Nation that is another major motivator in their workings. Contrary to popular belief, they are not the only Cherokee tribe within the nation and so they don’t get 100% of the benefits and stipends given out by the government. They are, however, the largest and with that size come power and we all know that power corrupts. The CN has already started a campaign to discredit smaller and less powerful Cherokee tribes in an attempt to “Highlander” their way to complete rule. There can be only one!

I am not a descendant of Freedmen. I am what’s known as “Cherokee by Blood” but I cannot be a member of the Cherokee Nation. Why? Well, because my great-great grandfather and his wife skipped off the reservation in the large gap between the Trail of Tears and the Dawes Rolls. They passed for white long enough to get away and became restaurant owners and cruise ship entertainers on the Mississippi River (I kid you not. They had a variety show with their kids.). Though their names and the names of their parents were included on previous rolls BUT since they’re not on the Dawes, I’m not getting in.

I am a member of the American Cherokee Confederacy, a small friendly tribe in Georgia which was recently *DRUMROLL* called a fraud by the Cherokee Nation!!! It was only one among the multitude the small independent tribes that are being crushed under the foot of the CN.

I’ve reached point of apathy when it comes to being Cherokee as a whole. Excluding my fellow tribesmen of the ACC most interactions of my family and Cherokee members has been tainted as best. We’ve been called “darkies” and the “N” word even by family (yeah, once you go black you get disowned). The Freedmen issue was my breaking point. I’m not exerting anymore. I’m still in ACC be it fraudulent or not but the Cherokee Nation’s actions have shown me enough. I can be Cherokee without a tribe but I wouldn’t lower my morals to be with them, even if they’d have me.

Ankhesen, how should this post be tagged? - Hateya


  1. @GoddessMaverick

    Are you giving or receiving those tatoos? ;)

    Thank you so much for writing this educational article and for sharing your personal insights. I'm still not at the point where I can articulate my feelings about this matter without raging.

  2. They're temporary(:-)) and I'm giving but both of my arms usually stay inked as an example for customers. Lol.

    Yeah that's completely understood, I was livid when I first found out but I've kinda got a track record when it comes to the tribe and race so I've numbed up. But an injustice is still an injustice.

  3. Excellent post. Hateya, tag it as discussion & experience.

  4. Come to think of it, Blasian history, sociology, and politics qualify as well.

  5. Wow..!I've learned something new without being in an actual classroom. If history would have been taught like this, I would have liked it a lot better.

    There were so much that I didn't learn about The Trail Of Tears or The Freedmen. As a matter of fact, I never recalled learning about them( the Freedmen).I also didn't know that the late Wilma Mankiller did that to them. I always thought that she was a better person than that...of course that was, before I learned that fact about her.

    Just to think President Obama praised Wilma for being a freedom fighter and she stabbed the Freedmen in their backs.It kinda bugs me when I think about this.-M

  6. @GoddessMaverick

    I haven't forgotten your essay. I'm still more or less grappling with it. Perhaps my anger stems from the Cherokee using the Dawes Rolls in the first place as justification for expelling the Freedman. Because they did use it, the whole issue has been about race. They knew that the Dawes Rolls only listed Freedman as such and did not address their blood quantum because even if they did have significant Cherokee blood they'd be relegated as Freedman simply because they had features that suggested they had an African heritage. Furthermore, the enrollment process did not recognize the children of Native American men and (Black) slave women. While I understand the use of the matriarchal line, I still can't appreciate it.

    My grandmother had been on the rolls before she ran away with my grandfather and began a breeding program of astronomical proportions. ;) I wonder if they left because she clearly has some African heritage. From what she said, he found her people (Cherokee) to be rather unsavory. It's odd. We have very good familial relationship with our Lakota relatives and they KNOW they aren't related to us by blood because my grandfather was orphaned. He was likely Algonquin. Somehow we're thick as thieves with this branch of the family. My second brother and female cousins are married to Lakota people. Two of cousins live on Pine Ridge Reservation and continuing the tradition of breeding uncontrollably. :D

  7. I did not know the Cherokee owned slaves until my junior year of college when I took a history course that dealt with how history is constructed and for the most part some believe taught incorrectly in high schools. I did a whole conference project on how the civilization program led by the missionaries and the government greatly influenced the outcome of Cherokees owning slaves. As someone who has two great grandmas who are Cherokee this is very sad news to hear. This has been a super duper educational experience. Thanks Goddess Maverick and Hateya!

  8. Hey Tracy,

    I've been meaning to catch up with you for awhile. I'm afraid I've been more disorganized and more disjointed as usual. There's been entirely too much shaking going on around here.

    This has been a super duper educational experience.

    Since Goddess Maverick wrote this essay, I've found more material regarding the Cherokee-Freedman controversy and I intend to share it with the rest of you as soon as I can. I've always found knowledge to be power and it always helps to seek various perspectives.

    I'll be posting a few articles under the title "Indigenous Thoughts" over the next few weeks. I'm trying to isolate those concepts/beliefs that Blacks and Indigenous people have in common.

  9. @ Hateya

    I completely understand, no worries ^_^ I was concerned about you and your family's safety and nothing else. And I'm glad to know that you were safe. I am still going with Taiwan my one and only. Take your time and catch up with me when you can!

  10. @Tracy

    Thank you for understanding. When you have an idea of where you're going in Taiwan, let me know. One of my best friends (a Flemish Belgian) lives and works in Taichung. She's also the director of the foreign language department at her university. Pity her. I do.

  11. That was interesting.
    Like many AA people I too sometimes wonder about "Native American" side of my family. We did not get to know them for whatever reason. Whatever stories or secrets my great-grandfather knew he took them to his grave. My extended cousins did not know much about my grt. grnd.father. He and his daughter, my grandmother were from Mississippi and they were not the type of people who talked about their past. LOL, family secrets.


  12. @Hateya

    The Breeding uncontrollably aspect has me giggling. Coming from a mother ho was the second of third of eight whose mother was one of seven i understand you completely. I'm glad you and your Lakota kin are so close. I couldn't tell you a word of the Blackfoot from my dad. I totally look forward to a post from you about this. You're always so informational!

    @ Tracy
    Glad you enjoyed the article and yeah, its something (HIS)story likes to keep hushed down as with most POC interactions that are sans WP.

    @ Lois
    Glad you came to read the article!! I understand the feeling of not knowing. Certain facts about my family I learned with age or by being a very nosy child.

  13. @ GoddessMaverick

    Good thing you corrected that. Made me raise an eyebrow for a second there.

  14. yea it's crazy how things are being cherokee and dealing with this situation, it just tells you something that was forgotten in history, i was in my JR. yr, of high school and did a paper on Cherokees funny the content in there wasn't quite what i expected, i couldn't really argue the fact even tho knowing my heritage, i still wrote it anyway.... This History Will Soon Be Corrected...... Kern-Clifton Delaware Cherokees

  15. Hateya,

    Don't feel too bad I am Lakota and Cherokee's aren't given a whole lot of respect by most REAL natives. They are often mocked at pow wows when we see someone that seems not to belong when you ask them what tribe they are it's always Cherokee. Take a blood test you might be Choctaw, Chickasaw, creek, or Seminole the other "civilized tribes". Cherokees owned many slaves while other natives stole them and made them part of the tribe so it's not surprising they would be like that. So sorry.


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