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More on Cherokee debate

I am writing this out of concern regarding an article, ''Disinformation campaign undermines Cherokee rights'' [Vol. 27, Iss. 26], published on Nov. 30, 2007, regarding misinformation shaping the Cherokee freedmen issue. As Indian people, we all know that Congress has plenary authority over tribal nations. The author's dismissal of the Cherokee Nation's past racist policies attempts to veil historically racist political maneuvers in terms of tribal sovereignty. Anyone who suggests that tribes can operate contrary to expressly written treaty law in an isolated vacuum must be devoid of political, legal and economic reality.

The historical record speaks for itself. Cherokees owned slaves and instituted a litany of racist policies much the same as the southern states. Arguing that the Cherokee pro-Union fighters' nobility 150 years ago justifies our actions today is far-reaching and moot. At the end of the Civil War, the Cherokee Nation signed the 1866 treaty that re-established its relationship with the United States and affirmed the freedmen citizenship. For further information, read the opinion of the Cherokee Supreme Court affirming freedmen citizenship in 2006.

Arguing against the freedmen for cultural preservation concerns me most, because this implies that those citizens who have one drop of blood (or a fraction thereof) are instilled with Cherokee culture, while the freedmen are not. If one understands the social dynamic of the modern Cherokee Nation, one will see this is not the case. Our nation is diverse, with most of the citizenry being culturally Anglo. The nation has approximately 280,000 citizens; 60 percent live outside of the jurisdictional boundaries, in other states and 90 percent of tribal citizens have a blood quantum under one-quarter with the lowest blood quantum at 1/9,064ths. Enrollment has grown exponentially since the 1980s through the tribe's many citizen recruitment fairs where the enrollment department travels around the country and signs up new Cherokee citizens. The nation then teaches culture and language classes, which is the depth of many citizens' cultural experience. During the first eight years of the current administration, full-blooded whites whose descendants bought their way onto the ''by blood'' roll were allowed to enroll, yet there were no cries of ''cultural preservation'' until the freedmen won their case in Cherokee court.

The Cherokee ancient religion is still practiced by a minority of citizens in Oklahoma within the Kituwvh (Keetoowah) nighthawk societies throughout northeastern Oklahoma. It is these societies, which operate outside of the political machinations of the nation, that most people would recognize as ''traditional culture.'' The societies are intermixed with Cherokees from the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band, with many other full-bloods also practicing Christianity.

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Threats to other tribes are greatly exaggerated. Both [California Democratic Rep. Diane] Watson's House bill and the court cases are very specific to only the Cherokee Nation based on the historic injustice of slavery. The damage to all tribal nations will come if the court sides with the administration and determines that implied language in federal policy can override explicit treaty language. This has the ability to unravel federal Indian law altogether.

- Sean Nordwall

Scottsdale, Ariz.