Department of Interior makes counterclaim in lawsuit over Cherokee Nation freedmen descendants
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 03, 2012
7/03/12 at 8:15 AM
The U.S. Department of the Interior asked a federal judge for declaratory judgment and an injunction against the Cherokee Nation on Monday in an attempt to prevent the tribe from denying Cherokee freedmen's descendants citizenship in the tribe, court records show.
The counterclaim follows a claim filed in federal court in Tulsa in May by the Cherokee Nation.
That claim was seeking declaratory judgment, as well.
The claims could lead to the end of a 2009 lawsuit that is the latest legal attempt to end the issue, which dates to 1866, when the U.S. government and the Cherokees signed a treaty that gave the former slaves of Cherokees citizenship and rights within the tribe.
The Cherokee Nation's argument is that the treaty did not give the freedmen perpetual citizenship rights and that the tribe, as a sovereign nation, should be able to alter its constitution.
Additionally, the Cherokee Nation asserts that the United States has violated the treaty numerous times, leaving its contents open for change.
The Interior Department argues in its counterclaim Monday that the treaty is clear in guaranteeing the freedmen's descendants all the rights of native Cherokees.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said movement in the case is good for the tribe.
"Now we can move forward," he said in a statement Monday.
"We have all sides at the table, and all issues will be presented. We can finally get a definitive ruling."
Baker's stance on the issue since his election last year: No comment pending litigation.
But he has appeared to endear himself to the freedmen descendants, who are thought to have voted overwhelmingly for him in the last election.
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree has said his job in the freedmen issue is solely to protect the Cherokee Nation Constitution, which changed several years ago after a tribal vote to remove the freedmen descendants from citizenship.
"I look forward to having all involved parties in the same courtroom," Hembree said in a statement. "We can finally get a definitive resolution in this matter."
Hembree's predecessor, former tribal Attorney General Diane Hammons, said in November that a court ruling in the case is necessary to define the tribe's sovereignty.
"You see, just dropping the ... case would solve almost nothing," she said. "You would still have all those competing factors and would not have a federal court resolution on what the applicable provisions of the Treaty of 1866 really meant at the time and mean today."
What's been happening
Recent legal highlights between the Cherokee Nation and freedmen descendants:
2007: A citizen-petitioned vote amended the constitution and removed freedmen descendants from Cherokee citizenship.
February 2009: The Cherokee Nation sued the U.S. Department of the Interior, seeking to remove freedmen descendants from Cherokee citizenship registration.
May 1: The Cherokee Nation amended its lawsuit to seek declaratory judgment against the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Monday: The U.S. Department of the Interior filed a counterclaim seeking declaratory judgment and relief, including an injunction to prevent the Cherokee Nation from denying eligible freedmen descendants citizenship and other rights of native Cherokees.
Original Print Headline: Counterclaim made in freedmen lawsuit
Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker: "Now we can move forward."