The San Diego Black Film Festival opens tonight (Thursday, January 29) with By Blood, a film that addresses the complicated saga of the Cherokee Freedmen. "Freedmen" is a term first applied to former slaves of American Indians who, following the Civil War, were given Tribal citizenship in new treaties signed by the Five Civilized Nations—the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, and Seminole.
It may have seemed a logical solution: A slave in Alabama, after the Civil War, becomes a free citizen of Alabama; a slave in the Cherokee Nation, after the Civil War, becomes a free citizen of the Cherokee Nation. But citizenship in sovereign Tribal nations isn't like citizenship in the United States. And the imperfections in a decision made nearly 150 years ago have magnified and mutated over time. The case of the Cherokee Freedmen is today a thorny situation that concerns not only race but also cultural heritage, identity, law, sovereignty, and money.