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Downsizing Cherokee Nation in 500 Years of Politics

A descendant of Mohawk Nation and trained in anthropology, Patty has researched and reported on indigenous peoples for over four decades.

Cherokee Values, American Values: Tribute plaque from the Cherokee people to Will Rogers.

Cherokee Values, American Values: Tribute plaque from the Cherokee people to Will Rogers.

In the 20th century, many Cherokee descendants became more well known than in previous centuries. For example, famous journalist and humorist Will Rogers contributed great amounts of laughter to the world.

Rogers brought more recognition to this tribal nation with his nickname "Cherokee Kid" -- He was one-quarter Cherokee and a documented tribal member. The Cherokee Heritage Center and the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore OK hosted an exhibit on the life of Rogers from September 29, 2018 through March 30, 2019.

Despite many such recognized tribal members and their contributions to America, the tribe began downsizing.

Turmoil Around Native Minorities in America

Native Americans have been featured in the news with increasing frequency since one group, the Crow Nation, adopted President Barack Obama as a member upon his election to U.S. president in 2008.

More recently, another nation, the Lakota, seceded from the United States and proceeded to bill federal agencies for "squatting" on their native-owned lands.

Increasing numbers of indigenous groups are renewing efforts to become US Federally Recognized Tribes or at least State Recognized Tribes, leading to some opposition and controversy. Many people want to join tribes, even though they have little or no proof of ancestry.

Other Americans remembered and wanted to renew the movement under President Truman through President Kennedy of the U.S. Congress attempting to eliminate all recognition of Native American groups.

During all this in the AD 2010s, Cherokee Nation controversially downsized.

Annual Cherokee National Treasures were named for 2018 and included Loretta Shade, Troy Jackson, Lisa Rutherford. Annie Wildcat received the award posthumously. All four winners were people who worked to preserve tribal arts, language, culture, and education.

The Seminole Nation was only partially removed, but split into two groups - one Tribe and one Nation with equal status.

The Seminole Nation was only partially removed, but split into two groups - one Tribe and one Nation with equal status.

The Cherokee National Holiday is an annual event held each Labor Day weekend in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

This is Mr. Frank Barnett, an African-American and part Cherokee in Scull Shoals, Georgia. He would still qualify for membership as a Cherokee today, given his DNA.

This is Mr. Frank Barnett, an African-American and part Cherokee in Scull Shoals, Georgia. He would still qualify for membership as a Cherokee today, given his DNA.

Slaves, Freemen and Descendants

Cherokee Nation's governing body decided that the descendants of the African slaves owned by Cherokees in the post-Civil War, Reconstruction era would be removed from tribal rolls and lose all memberships and benefits.

The leadership voted to include black slaves of the 18th century and voted to exclude their descendants without appeal in the 21st century in 2007. Upon examination, the vote was found to be proper and legal, but the reasons for the ouster were unclear.

Allegations of racism against black members were leveled, along with allegations of election tampering AND vote-blocking.

The African slaves and biracial offspring joining the Cherokee were taken as Freedmen along the same Trail of Tears march forced he U.S. Federal Government and the President of 1838. The combined peoples, natives and blacks, marched through the harshest blizzards of the 19th century from the Carolinas into Oklahoma, losing many to hypothermia, starvation, over exertion, and severe illness.

Cherokee Nation, until 2011, held the rank of second-largest Native American group, but without its black descendants, that rank may fall.

Below, indigenous advocate and Cherokee Phoenix editor Will Chavez travels the Trail of Tears by bicycle.

The 1896 Dawes Commission Index listed 14,000 people in the Five Civilized Tribes of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole Nations. Blood quantums (percentages of "Indian blood") were not included.

About the Next Video

"American Red and Black: Stories of Afro-Native Identity" is produced by Alicia Woods.

Made in 2006, this film looks at six Afro-Native Americans from around the United States. They speak about their thoughts on complex issues of Native and African heritage, ethnic identity, and racism inside multicultural communities.

Downsizing Cherokee Nation

The ex-slaves, or Freedmen, that went to Oklahoma - and their descendants - were on the tribal books as official tribal citizens until about 1980.

After 1980, the tribal leaders amended their membership requirements to mandate direct descent from an ancestor listed in the Cherokee By Blood section of the official Dawes Rolls that counted native numbers. This action disallowed many of the black descendants of the original Cherokee Freedmen who could not prove blood ties.

The tribe stripped these former citizens of tribal voting rights and citizenship, while these controversial legal actions received backlash, they continued to 2007 and were re-examined in 2011.

Harsher backlash began in 2011 when HUD decided to deny Cherokee Nation funding after its Supreme Court tossed the blacks from membership. HUD (U.S, Department of Housing and Urban Development) funds already on deposit to the tribe were frozen and a $33,000,000 withdrawal attempt in late summer 2011 was denied.

A U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee Freedmen. The judge reaffirmed their rights, citing the 1866 treaty the Cherokee Nation and the US government signed after the Civil War.

— Allison Herrera of; August 31, 2017.

Lawsuits and Bills

The tribe's Judicial Appeals Tribunal holds in the case of Lucy Allen (a Freedmen) v. Cherokee Nation Tribal Council that a 1983 Cherokee Nation law limits Cherokee citizenship to Cherokees, Shawnees and Delawares by blood.

— Cherokee Nation/Freedmen Timeline, 1983

According to the U.S. Census, about 120,000 tribal members live within the largest landholdings of the Cherokee Nation. The Eastern Band includes 12,500 members and the United Keetoowah Band has approximately 16,000 members. The largest group has no blood quantum requirements for membership.

Slavery, Freedom and 21st Century Rights

It is a shock to some Americans that the Cherokee owned plantations in the South before the Civil War and owned African slaves to work on these farms. Racist thought against black Cherokee tribal members unfortunately still exists in the 21st century, contributing to the decision in 2007 to expel descendants of Freedmen.

In the summer of 2017, a U.S. District Court judge reaffirmed all the tribal rights of the Cherokee Freedmen, citing the 1866 treaty the tribe U.S. government signed after the Civil War. Thus far, the ejected black Cherokee members are members once again.


  • Hubbard, J. Cherokee Nation announces 2018 Cherokee National Treasure honorees.; 2018. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  • Inglish, P. Famous and Inspiring Cherokee People. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  • Fixico, D.L. Termination and Relocation: Federal Indian Policy, 1945-1960. University of New Mexico Press; 1986. Included in The Journal of American History 93(1); March 1988.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Patty Inglish MS


Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 13, 2017:

Thanks for this information, it is great to know you as a relative of this important gentleman. I am amazed and appreciative.

Tracy Gober on May 13, 2017:

Stumbled across this Hub. The image of Frank Barnett...he's my Great Grandfather.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 15, 2014:

Additional progress in the controversy May 6 and July 15, 2014

1] Washington Post. By Courtland Milloy: The Cherokees: One nation, divisible? Judge will decide if black members can be expelled.

http:// tinyurl DOT com/nl4mlep

"Cherokee Nation v. Raymond Nash"

"The outcome hinges on how U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan interprets an 1866 treaty between the Cherokee Nation and the United States. The agreement, in essence, is an Indian version of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1866, guaranteeing the rights and protection of freed slaves.

The Cherokee Nation, which was actively involved in the slave trade, later signed a treaty stating: “All freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law, as well as all free colored persons . . . and their descendants, shall have all the rights of native Cherokees."

"The move to expel citizens who derive their status from former slaves coincides with an increased flow of money into the Cherokee Nation — including billions of dollars from U.S.-sanctioned casinos and hundreds of millions more in federal appropriations for housing, health and employment services."

NOTE: Another opinion from the same article:

“This is mostly about white people trying to be Indian because of the money at stake,” said Sam Ford, a descendant of a Cherokee freedman and also a reporter for WJLA (Channel 7).

2] Dan Littlefield: Freedmen deserve Cherokee Nation citizenship.

www DOT cherokeephoenix DOT org/Article/Index/1760

www DOT indianz DOT com/News/2014/014397.asp

Dan Littlefield: Director, University of Arkansas /Little Rock's Sequoyah National Research Center --

"The Freedmen's rights in the Cherokee Nation were guaranteed by the Treaty of 1866, which the CN signed and carried out. It did so admirably, considering the racial climate in the adjoining states at the time.

Following the Treaty in 1866, the Cherokee National Council amended the constitution to guarantee the freedmen full rights as citizens. The Nation's own citizenship court and Supreme Court subsequently admitted large numbers of additional Freedmen applicants to citizenship. These were primarily Freedmen who had not returned to the CN within the six-month limit set by the treaty. A good example was the Supreme Court's action on June 21, 1871, which "admitted to Cherokee Rights and Citizenship" 34 Cherokee Freedman households. Without doubt, the court realized the implications of its action: not only those admitted but their hundreds of descendants would be future citizens of the Nation. This was only one of a number of such decisions.

In taking its censuses, the CN listed citizens according to the basis for their rights to citizenship: by blood or by adoption. In the latter category, they listed four groups: Shawnees, Delawares, Freedmen, and intermarried whites. No matter what category a person was in, he or she was still a citizen of the CN. "

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 22, 2012:

I agree that it is difficult to dig out what actually occurred in the Carolina mountains, especially since I think some oral histories were lost completely. Thank you for posting, Southernmapart.

Southernmapart on October 22, 2012:

Until I read this Hub, I have not known that the African-American slaves of the Cherokee were removed with the Cherokee to Oklahoma.

A few researchers around the Carolina mountains declare that, before the War Between the States broke out, there were maroons of black males in the mountains. I do not believe there is sufficient local evidence to support such an idea.

It is difficult to determine actual history of these times because so much information has either been misrepresented, or destroyed.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 19, 2012:

Thanks for the information, gconeyhiden. Politics is indeed nasty many times.

gconeyhiden from Brooklyn, N.Y.C. U.S.A on July 19, 2012:

Interesting hub patty. seems like many people think human slavery started in Africa, not true. Slavery is a very old custom. To me it's understandable why some native American tribes are becoming defensive in their attitudes. Politics is a nasty business and they have been getting screwed. They very well may have been forced into this nasty business to retain a legal foothold under U.S. law.

lisa on June 03, 2012:

I'm so fed up with being descriminated. Against fir me being. Cherokee ..I'm proud to be native american

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 24, 2012:

It is good to know someone of Seminole heritage - you are the first I have met outside a pow wow.

Native Americans in South Dakota rescinded their treaties recently. I sense a showdown in America.

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on March 24, 2012:

Ah very interesting....I am part grandmother was 100%. I've researched a lot about these years. The treatment of the Indians was hideous.

The Seminoles still have not signed the peace treaty! WTG tribe!

I was sorry to hear of the loss of your friend...that's rough and my belated condolences.

SanXuary on January 10, 2012:

If you our Cherokee blood then it should not matter what ties you have. If you our not then the argument is why should the Cherokees accept anyone. Prior to being marched away they actually were on the road towards inclusion within the General population. In prejudice and greed the Federal Government decided not to include them and forced them into the status they live today. Why should they include anyone today who is not Cherokee? If they are Cherokee and this is racism then I am appalled and sad that I am Cherokee. Things change through time and outward appearances do not change blood. I am curious to know if others were forced onto Reservations as well who were not Cherokee and if this is part of the problem? If it is a Cherokee Reservation directed by the Government in the past and non-Cherokee are living their as well then I can understand the issue to some extent. Thanks to our incredible media I am unaware of what the facts our. Is this a racial issue or an attempt to claim sovereignty on the reservation that they were forced to live on? Is their a fair way to fight this issue in the case of double jeopardy if this is the issue? Where two groups of people have been forced onto a reservation that was reserved for one group? To a great extent these are issues created by past prejudice and the end result of any racism is a poor way to fight this issue.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 08, 2011:

Hi Jay -

I question the motives of the slew of "stay on the reservation" television public service announcements directed at Native Americans. The message seems to be an attempt at controlling and keeping a people in one place. I don't like it. It's different on the North Dakota reservation - Bakken Oil field - that has huge amounts of oil and jobs available, and others have a lot a businesses emerging, but many reservations have few jobs.

On the NY-Canada border, a concerted effort since the 1990s has sought to drive the people of the reserve across the border to Canada, especially the traditional group, as opposed to the federally recognized group. Politics.

Jay S from Central New York on December 08, 2011:

One thing that has always bothered me about the U.S. government is it's ability to deny any actions it makes. We entered WWII to stop Hitler from persecuting Jews but our government permitted the same kind of persecution of Native Americans. I dare anyone to prove that there is a difference between a concentration camp and a reservation. People were abused, neglected, and killed on a daily basis in both places. Hitler stole the lives of the people he attacked and the U.S. gov't did the same to thousands of Native Americans. Then when our gov't couldn't stop all the natives from living the life that they chose they put a price on buffalo hides and told hunters to kill as many as they could taking away not only the Natives biggest food source, but also the hides used for clothing and shelter.

When you read this, please understand that I love this country but it's government for 400 years may well be the most corrupt in history.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 17, 2011:

Thanks for the new comments!

I think the 2012 pole shifting stories are moot, because Asians have spoken of regular North-South pole switching for 1000s of years longer than our Native Americans have spoken of it. No one pays attention to the Asians about it and we should. The pheomenon is used in the story that goes with the Yin-Yang symbol, which I have no use for by itself. The interesting story is that Blue Dragon holds the Earth in place from flying away, while White Tiger underneath supports it and keeps it from falling away. Every so many (500)years, the animals switch places to learn more about the other side. It's a story to explain magnetic poles, which do shift, but not regularly at precisely 500-year cycles.

Forget 2012. The poles have shifted more than once already. Cheers!

somethgblue from Shelbyville, Tennessee on September 17, 2011:

Interesting article, I'd be interested to know if you have heard what the native Americans think of 2012 and pole shifts (the Hopi legends), or if the subject even has come up.

I surprised so many Americans were unaware that many tribes used captives as slaves in the beginning, but later allowed some form of tribal membership.

I have no problem with a particular race of humans trying to keep their lineage pure, even though I'm a mutt.

WesternHistory from California on September 17, 2011:

This is a very interesting hub. The history of native Americans has always been a fascinating topic in as much as the many likeness between tribes and the varied ways the U.S. Government dealt with them. Another interesting thing is that although the tribes dealt with American's centuries ago, there are many unfinished issues as your hub demonstrates.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 15, 2011:

I am glad to know that more of my acquaintances are Cherokee descent. Let us keep an eye on this situation and see what happens next. I'd like to know the reasons onboth sides of the issue.

Thanks for the kind comments, Daniella Lopez, JT Walters, Hello hello, and alekhouse.

Nancy Hinchliff from Essex Junction, Vermont on September 15, 2011:

Patty, This is a wonderful comprehensive. I happen to be of Cherokee descent and am always happy when someone posts interesting and honest facts about my ancestors.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on September 14, 2011:

Hello Patty. You will never know how much pleasure you give me with all these information. Thank you for your splendid hub. I am sorry toread about you loss of your friend. It is always sad.

JT Walters from Florida on September 13, 2011:

Hi Ms. Inglish,

No thank you for all your research and your very informative hubs.


Daniella Lopez on September 13, 2011:

Great and informative article! Being of Cherokee heritage myself, I find it disgraceful what they have done to our tribe members. My Cherokee grandparents taught me that the Cherokee people are an loving and accepting tribe. This move by the tribe shows them in a different light however.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 13, 2011:

@femme... and dallas... My friend was about 1/4 Cherokee and he was the only one with such heritage I know except for a lovely and strong woman working at a local supermarket.

I wonder why the nation voted to expel the Blacks and if it was more than a cost-saving measure. I also wonder how man of the Freedmen died on the way to Oklahoma in the blizzards.

I have pale white skin but native features that seem more pronounced when I wear my hair down - some people stare at me. Haha - ghost Indian. Like you femme, attitudes are also what put me off, not color. I love color.

Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on September 13, 2011:

Another great article. Flag up.

femmeflashpoint on September 13, 2011:

Fascinating article and a huge amount of interesting and useful information, much of it disheartening, and moreso because, I am constantly trying to familiarize myself with my Cherokee heritage. I didn't grow up around it as many of my cousins did, and didn't make much effort to become more acquainted with it until recently. I'm saddened to realize that racism is still alive and well in too many places and amongst too many people.

I have folks I interract with that I do not respect, nor even have much affinity for, and they're pretty much people from all colors and cultures. It's not their color that causes the disrespect in me, it's totally their attitude. But, the first card that's always thrown on the table at me, is that my dislike of them has to do with my color versus theirs. That only leaves me feeling more offended and intensifies a dislike for them.

A racist rates right up there at the top of the list of the sorts of people I'd automatically have an issue with.

Thank you for sharing the information. I'll work on my attitude, and continue making attempts to improve it, and I'll pray that the tribes do the same!

Also, sorry to read of the loss of your friend. :(

Thank you for sharing the information.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 13, 2011:

V - I guess you missed the word "buried" in the comment -- But thanks now for your condolences! I appreciate that.

VENZKHVAM from Milk way galaxy, trying to find a more adventurous place in another galaxy with my great followers on September 13, 2011:

Oh dear Patty, I was today on a marathon of visting various hubs and commenting as today I took holiday from office .I just read your first reply to my comments in the hub feed very casually and I assumed that you went for some friends house cleaning and shifting and that is why I had replied that since you are tired of the thing I will wait. But that too with out knowing your friends loss I said you are socially active as you went for helping a friend to shift.This is what happened.I m sure I justified my position. I am really sorry & please accept my sincere apologies for my careless mistake .I am not that cruel a person to not to know the value of a human loss.

Kindly do accept my sincere condolences.And may your friends soul rest in peace.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 13, 2011:

Earth Angel! - It turns out that I had a dream that woke me up with a vision of my friend being released from his chronic pain/injuries and all the toxic medications - at the very time of his passing.

He is free now.

Thanks for the prayers and thoughts to his wife and family and me!

Earth Angel on September 13, 2011:

Dearest Patty, This is a beautiful Hub ~ and more amazing still with the huge loss recently of one of your best friends . . . I am so very sorry . . . My thoughts and prayers are with you and his wife and family . . . We are all connected . . . Blessings always, Earth Angel . . . P.S. I fully agree with your comment to V-

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 13, 2011:

V - One of my best friends died 300 miles away, I had to make mortuary arrangements and bury him and wait for an autopsy, and you call it 'socially active', while you demand attention for your Hubs without so much as a "Sorry for your loss." No.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 13, 2011:

Very interesting, JT Walters -- Thanks for that information. We must look into Lakota general opinion about the fed govt and the Administration at this time. I am wondering what we will find...

The Germans are a remarkable people overall, imo. I think they were unfairly discriminated against in the Midwest after WWII - some of our schools stopped teaching German language as well from the 1940s until the 1970s.

Thanks again for commenting.

JT Walters from Florida on September 13, 2011:

HI Ms. Inglish,

A very enlightening hub but I have to wonder if the Lakota would have felt the same. I have records dating back to before the civil war and the Lakota Tribe was very influential. I would also like it added here that Germans didn't abuse anyone nor did they believe in slavery atleast before World War II.


VENZKHVAM from Milk way galaxy, trying to find a more adventurous place in another galaxy with my great followers on September 13, 2011:

I am waiting for your comments in my three hubs patty thanks for your fast response. so by your reply i presume you are a very socially active girl. right. wish you all the best for longer hubs.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 13, 2011:

Ha ha, V! I am glad to see you again. Actually, I am writing longer Hubs these days and therefore fewer - and getting much more traffic. But I have many more Hubs in waiting and the numbers will increase again.

In the past three weeks, I buried a best friend in another state and helped clean his house out and settle all his paperwork as well as helped his wife move, plus writing Hubs and doing other you could say I was a little busy.

As for information - I travel, read, and ask the right questions :)

VENZKHVAM from Milk way galaxy, trying to find a more adventurous place in another galaxy with my great followers on September 13, 2011:

Hi Patty,

What happened to you? When I joined hub pages I remember me following you was the first thing I did. And also every half an hour you used to publish one new hub.But you had slowed down a bit But happy know still you are the most popular one.

Looking down the history is always gives you many unknown information.So as usual about the native Americans ,and the changes after Mr.Obama becasme the President. Added to that the white slaves not able to be controlled and naturally the black slaves becasme better to be managed and all this information is really new to me.

How do you get all this information dear?

You research And write or like it is your already known passion of topic. Any way I am a great fan of you.

I invite you to visit my three hubs and leave at least a single line of comments ,when you are free. I will feel happy and proud to have the opinion of successful hubbers like you.

Following you with pleasure.

voted up and useful

As I am

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 13, 2011:

@FloraBreenRobison - I have been treated cordially by the Native groups and Pow Wows I have visited and found the peoples very friendly to non-natives as well as natives and part-natives.

In my own city in Central Ohio, some of the leadership feel that far too many whites claim Native blood where there is none, but still the local group is quite cordial. What is said behind closed doors, I don't know.

Annually for a decade, the kids in my martial arts studio gathered new clothing and nonperishable foods and even a turkey or two for the native food pantry here, because it was robbed several times. But it recovered. Now the group offers help of many kinds to anyone in the county, where many other non-profits limit help to a zipcode or two.

We will see what occurs in NY when I attempt to visit the Mohawk groups along the Canadian border.

FloraBreenRobison on September 12, 2011:

So it appears that whites are not the only racists who believe in so called racial purity. I didn't know Native Americans had slaves of any kind no matter tribe or race was mentioned. Ironic that Native Americans would try to deny descendants their birthrights while meanwhile somebody like Tiger Woods who is only a quarter African and three quarters Asian is always referred to as Black, not Asian. Even a tiny amount of African and you are referred to as Black.

How are you treated as a Mohawk among the Mohawks being that you are half European?

L.L. Woodard from Oklahoma City on September 12, 2011:

The treatment of Native Americans by early white men was despicable, to say the least. I had no idea that Native Americans owned slaves pre-Civil War and feel badly for the black descendents who have been ousted from the Cherokee Nation.

Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on September 12, 2011:

I think in part the prejudice stems from the fact that Cherokee was once slave owners with plantations and maybe some amount of wealth. The Blacks claim to be a part of this nation would be a hard pill to swallow considering that fact, yet, the Cherokee should never forget that had it not been for the support of the Freedmen they cause might have not been brought to purpose.

Another very enlightening journey into the lives and history of the Native Americans

Fiddleman on September 12, 2011:

Tremendous hub and very informative.

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