'Another trail of tears'

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As someone who has confronted Ward Churchill years ago at Northern Kentucky University for being a fraud and a con artist in his fraudulent claims to be Cherokee, it saddens me to see Chad Smith and the nation vote to exclude the freedmen, many of whom are my friends. People like State Rep. of Kentucky Reginald Meeks are not only proud of their Cherokee heritage but practice their culture. As an African/Native American, Meeks has been a traditional dancer for over 30 years, is a pipe carrier, and has sponsored and promoted legislation to benefit our people for many years. He has been a leading voice in the protection of the thousands of burial sites of Native people in the state of Kentucky and been a personal donor to local indigenous organizations like the Kyana Native American Support Group and the American Indian Movement. He has also backed efforts to support many projects on the White Earth Anishinaabeg Reservation. He personally traveled with me to [visit] elder and friend Margeret Fairbanks in the midst of a blizzard and stayed with her there for a week as she passed. Meeks is very proud of his Cherokee heritage in Oklahoma and, as far as I know, he has never needed or tried to ''cash in'' on his heritage. He has always been a warrior for all Indian people, not just the Cherokee.

Who is Smith, apart from being a prominent Oklahoma Republican, to decide these folks are not Cherokee after these many years? I was raised to believe that it was about your being a part of a community that made you part of that community. Most of the freedmen that I know were not just freed slaves but had intermarried with Cherokees, Seminoles and others since the great Seminole Wars of Florida. So Smith decided to cash in on greed to embark on some ethnic cleansing to trim the tribal budget. Wasn't it his band that went around handing out honorary enrollment cards to people like Ward Churchill? Yet people that live and have been a part of the Cherokee Nation since 1866 are pushed aside? Churchill's honorary membership was only revoked after he made embarrassing remarks about 9/11. People like me were calling him a fraud for almost 20 years.

It is against every warrior's duty to prey upon the powerless and give way to the powerful. Smith may be chief, but he is no warrior for the people. The Cherokee Nation should reverse this travesty of justice. When one group of the oppressed are enlisted to hurt another group of the oppressed, then this is the backbone of White American history. Smith is proving himself to be willing to lead the Cherokee on yet another trail of tears.

- Thomas Pearce

Lake Worth, Fla