Set right the wrongs done to Freedmen in the United States

Leatrice Tanner-Brown | 11/17/2010, 5 p.m.

How can this great nation of the United States of America allow Freedmen Descendants to be treated in such a racist and discriminatory manner? Over and over again the rules have been changed by Cherokee Tribes, and then readily accepted by the United States Courts in order to assure that most Freedmen will have no rightful place in Native American tribes. For decades, one Cherokee chief after another has implemented long-standing racist behaviors in order to assure that most Freedmen are excluded from voting and other privileges offered to Cherokee citizens.

I am a direct descendant of a Freedman/Black Indian. My grandfather, grandmother, great grandfather, and great grandmother were Freedmen and are listed on the Dawes Rolls. My mother was born in Nowata, Okla., in 1927. My ancestors had strong ties to the Cherokee Nation and shared the customs, traditions, and often times the language of these people with whom they were racially mixed.

Many children were born because of miscegenation and slavery, and they occasionally inter-married with the Cherokee people in Oklahoma territory. Although these facts have been proven through written and oral history, this seems to mean nothing to the United States government. What will America do to right this wrong, specifically under the protection of the 1866 Treaty for Freedmen and Black Indians?

The "land of the free, home of the brave," doesn't seem to apply to those of us with any degree of African ancestry, and we don't seem to have protection under the law especially in relation to the Treaty of 1866.

My grandfather was born in Chelsea, Okla. in 1897. He was granted 60 acres of land by the Cherokee Nation. He and his brothers and sisters were listed on the Dawes Rolls as Cherokee Freedmen. His wife's family, my grandmother, was on the Kern Clifton Roll. They were both mixtures of Cherokee, African, and White blood lines, which is not uncommon for most African Americans in the United States. We know that according to the Treaty of 1866, my grandfather was entitled to have received his land, along with an Individual Indian Money Account. Needless-to-say, he never received any of these things. My grandfather, was an uneducated man, and could not read or write. This was due to the phenomena of illiteracy, poverty, and fear, the evil by-products of the legacy of slavery. Sadly enough, these conditions still exist today among many African Americans and other people of color, who much too often, continue to suffer from discrimination.

Years ago, my family and I set out on a massive ancestral search, as we began looking for answers.

We had hopes of getting the same equitable treatment which had been granted to those "full blooded" Cherokee members who happened to be listed on the Dawes Rolls as full blooded. There were no DNA tests done in the late 1800's, and we have never understood how the determination of Cherokee blood degree was proven. Our family knew that we were supposed to receive assistance with educational costs, and other benefits which were granted to Cherokee citizens, particularly the return of our family lands. To our dismay, we were informed that we were not entitled to anything, because we were descendants of the slaves of the Cherokee--"Freedmen" which means we have mixed Black (African) ancestry.