As readers of this journal know, I have spoken out firmly against the banishment of the Freedmen from Cherokee citizenship, and I believe that racism had a heavy hand in passing that measure last March. But H.R. 2824, Congresswoman Diane Watson’s bill to withdraw federal funds from the tribe, only adds injustice to injustice.
After the Civil War, the Treaty of 1866 promised The Cherokee Nation certain rights, and demanded certain responsibilities, one of which was to take in our former slaves. There is no doubt that chatel slavery is among the most horrendous of conditions one group of humans can afflict upon another. Cherokee plantation owners were also slave owners, and because of this the Cherokee nation owes a debt to the descendants of those slaves, by accepting them into citizenship, as all other slave-owning nations have done.
However, there is also a big difference between the Cherokee Nation and other nations. Like the African slaves, the Cherokees also suffered a terrible tragedy at the hands of an oppressive U.S. government and society.
Is the Cherokee Nation abrogating the Treaty of 1866, as many claim? I don’t know, because I am not a legal expert, but two facts are very clear in my mind. First, the Treaty of 1866 was pushed upon a dispirited and beaten people, who had recently been forced on a journey of death and suffering, known as The Trail of Tears, and who had been further devasted by civil war.
Then, in 1877, the Dawes Act laid the groundwork for the theft of our new tribal lands by greedy white settlers. Let’s be clear, if anyone has broken promises, it is the United States government.
So, now, thanks to a couple of grandstanding politicians (I speak here of Principal Chief Chad Smith and Congresswoman Watson), two oppressed peoples are set upon each other, when we should be building alliances. I would like to remind progressives in Congress and elsewhere that it is white European ideologies and financial interests, and the complicity of the U.S. government, which has brought suffering on my people, as well as African-Americans.
Congresswoman Watson should be demanding that white America take responsibility for its role in this historical tragedy that is still unfolding today. Don’t use this ill-conceived decision by the Cherokee Nation as an excuse to take away programs for our poor. How will that help heal us?