Watson Bill, HR 2824, only compounds the injustice

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?


  1. Thank-you for this important article. I so agree that many Peoples have been “set upon each other, when we should be building alliances”. Use of “wedge-techniques” to split People apart has been going on for far too long all the while the primary perpetrators of ongoing “suffering of innocence” continue to laugh in back rooms & all the way to the bank. I’m sick and tired of it.

    In the end, i’ve become convinced that there are going to have to be reparations made for past large-scale injustices that continues to manifest as ongoing suffering of innocence in the present day. This will be a major but necessary undertaking on the path to peace.

    This is the first article on your site that i have read but i hope to study more what you have here.

    Ken Hausle, Charlotte, NC
    (someone who has hiked extensively in the land of the Cherokee)

  2. How can Freedmen call themselves Cherokee while they are attacking the weakest and most vulnerable members of our tribe? A real Cherokee would never try to harm Cherokee elders, Cherokee children, and Cherokee families. By their actions, the Freedmen have proven they are not Cherokees.

  3. Nany Kayo, I must disagree with you. The Freedmen are a large group of Cherokees with many different viewpoints. Congresswoman Watson’s bill does not speak for all of them.

    However, I suspect that most of them are rightfully angry at the actions of (a very small minority of) Cherokee voters. Less than 10% of Cherokee voters bothered to vote on the Freedman issue. Yet, the whole tribe may now have to pay for the racism and misguided votes of a few. We shouldn’t blame the Freedmen for this. It is the burden of the entire nation, and now we must deal with it.

  4. Marcus Mason, I must disagree with you, also. You must remember that the entire Blood Quantum idea is an invention of the U.S. government. It did not come from the native nations.

    It is very unfortunate, in my opinion, that Principal Chief Smith decided to take his stand on the backs of the Freedmen, but the Cherokee Nation also has a right to assert its sovereignty. This does not lessen the U.S. obligation to our nation. It is the U.S. government, and the greed of its ruling elites, which has sowed the seeds of this racism, and now for some reason they are “the good guys.” Give me a break.

    I think it is time to sit down and talk this out. Instead of letting racism divide us, we should be standing together to demand an accounting for the past of slavery and genocide.

  5. If the vote of the Cherokee people was specifically crafted to only affect the Freedmen descendants, I could see how it was racist. However, all legislation, constitutional amendments, and votes have simultaneously affected BOTH the Intermarried Whites descendants and Freedmen descendants. These are two groups who were made citizens by the Treaty of 1866. Cherokees of today, though, as we attempt to reclaim our culture from near the brink of extinction and as we try to define our common link as our ancient ancestors who called themselves Aniyunwiya, are not opposed to Freedmen inclusion for any other reason than because they are not Cherokee. Some of them are, just like there are people all over this world who are Cherokees but who do not have an ancestor on the Dawes rolls. But not all Freedemen descendants should be called Cherokees just because of that. And Cherokees should definitely not be called racists just because of how they chose to define themselves.

    Thank you for this blog and for opposing the incredibly harmful HR2824.

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