The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 22 in a unanimous decision that the language “by blood” is void and removed from Cherokee Nation’s tribal laws, including provisions within the Cherokee Nation Constitution, according to the opinion.
The decision was made in response to the Federal 2017 Cherokee Nation V. Nash case, which determined Freedmen citizens have full rights as Cherokee citizens, based on the Treaty of 1866.
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill recently requested that the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court set a hearing and issue an order to close the issue by striking the “by blood” references in the Cherokee Nation Constitution, based on the earlier federal ruling.
“The federal Court and Cherokee Nation Supreme court concluded in 2017 that Cherokee Nation is bound by the Treaty of 1866 to recognize Cherokee Freedmen’s descendants as full citizens. Cherokee Nation has abided by those court orders and will continue to do so,” Attorney General Hill said. “Provisions in Cherokee Nation’s Constitution and laws that deny descendants of Freedmen all the rights and obligations of Cherokee citizenship violate our 155-year-old Treaty obligations and are void. Cherokee citizens of Freedmen descent are simply this: Cherokee citizens.”
The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court granted AG Hill’s motion.
“Today’s unanimous opinion in SC-2017-07 holds that the words by blood are void, were never valid from inception, and must be removed wherever found throughout our tribal law when said words are used in reference to the Dawes Rolls. In doing so, the Court recognizes the importance of the 1866 Treaty for purposes of our nation’s prospective sovereignty and the underpinnings of citizenship,” today’s Cherokee Nation Supreme Court order states.
The Cherokee Nation has about 8,500 enrolled Cherokee Nation citizens of Freedmen descent.
“Cherokee Nation is stronger when we move forward as citizens together and on an equal basis under the law. Today’s decision in the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court reaffirms previous decisions by the Court on the issue of equality,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said today. “More importantly, the Court has acknowledged, in the strongest terms, our ancestors’ commitment to equality 155 years ago in the Treaty of 1866. My hope is that we all share in that same commitment going forward.”
Councilor Wes Nofire, along with Councilors Harley Buzzard and Julia Coats, filed a motion to intervene on February 18 with the Cherokee Supreme Court.
“The foundation of our democracy is at stake when any one branch of government believes they have the supreme authority to amend, alter, or strike any part of the Constitution without a vote by the People. We hope that the Justices of the Supreme Court will allow our intervention and follow the proper process of the Constitution by either an amendment or a Constitutional Convention,” Nofire said.
Nofire decided to file for intervention because he does believe that one branch of government has the
“Words were stricken illegally from the Constitution, which means we have a broken government. What does that mean for our people? The people determined you must be ‘by blood’ to be an elected official, and until the people decide to strike those words, they should remain,” No fire said.
Nofire says that he stands by the Constitution he swore to defend as a councilor and would like to see order restored to the tribe. He believes the Cherokee people are left without protection from the Cherokee Nation because the government is broken.
There are two ways to fix the broken Cherokee government, according to Nofire. The Chief could be removed from office for the actions Nofire says are illegal, or Cherokee citizens can vote to remove the justices who broke the Constitution.
“It will be a process to make this happen,” Nofire said. “In the 1990s, citizens banded together to make sure the rights under the Constitution were upheld. When I swore the oath of office, I knew exactly what I was swearing to do. This is not a freedmen issue. It’s an issue about upholding the democracy of the Cherokee Government. A sovereign nation gets to decide who is part of their tribe, not the United States government.”
Buzzard agreed with Nofire. He said, “I felt like it was the people’s choice to change the Constitution. I accept freedmen are citizens of the Cherokee Nation. Some are by blood, and some aren’t. Freedmen were citizens in the original treaty.”
The original treaty between the United States and the Cherokee People states that freedmen have the same rights as Native citizens. The Supreme Court decision in 2017 The Cherokee Nation v Nash decision affirmed the position of freedmen in the 1886 treaty. In 2017, the Cherokee Supreme Court issued a statement acknowledging the United States Supreme Court’s decision. The action taken to remove the words ‘by blood’ is just now being stricken based on that 2017 decision.
Hill said, “We are bound by the treaty of 1866. The Cherokee Nation has already agreed to this treaty, and the treaty cannot be changed. Treaties are considered the highest law of the land. They are federal law, and we depend on these treaties for our own rights. Even if the United States isn’t always faithful in honoring the treaty, we have to be faithful in honoring our treaty.”