More than 170 years ago, the proud Cherokee people in the South were brutally driven into exile in Oklahoma along what became known as the Trail of Tears. Now, an unlikely group of descendants is battling the tribe for its rights. They are the so-called black Cherokees, some of whose ancestors were held as slaves by members of the tribe.
Before the Civil War, some Cherokees owned slaves. After the war, tribal leaders signed a treaty granting blacks, known as “Freedmen,” the rights of native Cherokees. However, not all black Cherokees are descended from slaves owned by tribal members. Some are simply descended from blacks who married or had children with Cherokees and still refer to themselves as Freedmen.
Some of today's tribal members say Freedmen were never really Cherokee, and that allowing their descendants to stay in the tribe unfairly grants them benefits and weakens tribal sovereignty. In the early 1980s, Cherokee officials restricted citizenship to those listed on the Dawes Rolls as “Cherokee by blood.”
For those who successfully claim status as Cherokees have access to many services, such as a multimillion-dollar health center in Oklahoma.
You can read more in an article by Molly Hennessy-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times as published in the Bend (Oregon) Bulletin at http://www.bendbulletin.com/article/20111012/NEWS0107/110120360/
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