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Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

The leader of the Cherokee Nation has called a legal challenge against a Cherokee citizen of Freedmen descent who is seeking tribal office “offensive.”

Marilyn Vann, president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, filed for an at-large Cherokee tribal council seat on Monday, and a day later, another candidate filed a complaint against her with the tribe’s Election Commission.

The complaint said Vann “is not Cherokee by blood as required by the Constitution,” according to a report by the Cherokee Phoenix.

On Wednesday, Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. issued a statement backing Vann’s right to run for office.

Marilyn Vann, a Cherokee Freedman from Oklahoma City, said she could trace her Indian ancestry to the early 1830s, during a demonstration at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, March 27, 2007. (AP Photo)

“Both the federal court and Cherokee Nation's Supreme Court held that all Cherokee Freedmen descendants are equal, and full citizens under the law, and our tribe is a better nation for having embraced full and equal citizenship of freedman descendants, including the right to seek public office,” Hoskin said.

Hoskin cited a law declared in 2017 that Freedmen descendants are full Cherokee citizens. 

Tuesday’s complaint, filed by Cherokee Nation citizen Robin Mayes, of Texas, was forwarded to the Election Commission’s attorney and administrator, according to the Cherokee Phoenix. 

It refers to a 2007 amendment to the tribe’s constitution “to limit citizenship in the nation to only those persons who were Cherokee, Shawnee or Delaware by blood,” the Tulsa World reported.

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Vann also vowed to fight Mayes' challenge.

The Cherokee Nation, one of the largest and most influential tribes, claims more than 380,000 citizens with more than half residing within the tribe’s reservation in northeastern Oklahoma.

Its dark history related to slavery has had lasting repercussions. In the past, some tribal leaders were against the descendants of former Cherokee-owned slaves from becoming Cherokee citizens. More than three-quarters of Cherokee citizens voted in 2007 to kick out descendants of freedmen, according to The Associated Press.

The 2017 ruling directly affected 2,800 Cherokee Freedmen.

Cherokee historical figure Joseph “Stick” Ross, believed to be one of the first Cherokee Nation citizens as a Freedman, served on the tribal council from 1893 to 1894, before Oklahoma statehood.

“The anti-Freedmen proponents of this lawsuit, if successful, would force Cherokee citizens of Freedmen descent to essentially start over in their effort to secure civil rights in the Cherokee Nation,” Hoskin said. “Those efforts, which are completely contrary to settled Cherokee law, must not succeed.”

For a historical timeline of the Cherokee Freedmen, click here.

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.

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