In a 1866 treaty made with the US government, (after the Confederacy lost the Civil War and slavery was abolished) the Cherokee granted their former slaves (the Freedmen) citizenship in the tribe, with rights to share equally in annuities and land settlements.
The Freedmen were Cherokee Nation citizens until the early 1980s. The Cherokee Nation amended membership rules to require direct descent from an ancestor listed in the Cherokee By Blood document and stripped descendants of Cherokee Freedmen of voting rights and citizenship unless they satisfied this new criterion.
In March 2006, the Cherokee Nation's Supreme Court ruled that the descendants of the Cherokee Freedmen were unjustly disenfranchised, and they were re-established as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.
In response, Principal Chief Chad "Corntassel" Smith called for an emergency election to amend the constitution. A petition for a vote to remove the Freedmen descendants was circulated and approved, and the Freedmen descendants were again removed from the Cherokee Nation tribal rolls.
Larry Echo Hawk is assistant secretary for Indian affairs in the US department of the interior. He writes that "The department's position is, and has been, that the 1866 treaty between the US and the Cherokee nation vested Cherokee freedmen with rights of citizenship in the nation, including the right of suffrage."
Echo Hawk's threat is that the US federal government will not recognise the outcome of the upcoming election, potentially leading to another constitutional crisis for the Cherokee nation (the last, in 1997, saw a near-coup followed by armed federal intervention). At the same time, the US department of housing and urban development froze $33m (£20.9m) of funds due to the tribe's refusal to reinstate its African American members.
It's all quite retro; archaic concepts like the tribe, blood quantum laws, and terms such as quadroon, octoroon, hexadecaroon; concepts that (we flatter ourselves) we'd put away long, long ago.
One way of looking at this is that the Federal government is attempting to impose its values on the Cherokee Nation. You could say the Feds (which is: you and me) are failing to respect the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation. You might say we're (once again) ignoring their right to self-determination. The Federal response of withholding funds (that are due to the Nation) goes beyond sanctions; its an economic seizure that could be an Act of War.
Another way to look at this is that the Cherokee Nation is pursuing a program of racial purity (see the Godwin Rule). They're surely violating some sort of United Nations / European Union / New World Order standard of universal human rights. Would we interfere if they chose a policy of female circumcision? Would we interfere if they pursued polygamy?
Still another perspective is that this is a Civil War remnant - the Cherokee Nation aligned and fought with the Confederacy, and in fact the last Confederate general to surrender was a Cherokee general in charge of a Cherokee unit. Is this very different from the "it ain't over" crowd?
Can it be that once the Nation has secured federal benefits, natural gas assets, and casino revenue - that is to say, once the Nation has gotten some money and moved up a notch - that now they're forcing the Brothers out? Damn.
But this post is not about the Cherokee Freedmen; rather, it would focus on democracy's inability to deal with tribal structures.
- The Cherokee Nation is a tribe.
- The Jewish People can be tribal. (see New York, last week)
- The Palestinian conflict is tribal. (see New York, next week)
- Iraq, Iran, Pakistan: tribes.
Most of our problems are due to our inability to interact with tribes. Oh, for the days of nation-nation conflict; the good old days of World Wars.
I would suggest for your consideration that democratic systems, having abandoned the tribe in favor of other systems, have lost the ability to successfully interact, negotiate, and do business with tribes.
There's no retro-compatibility. We're running Windows 7, and we can't deal with that DOS-5 stuff. We can feign compatibility mode for a while, but it always crashes under duress. (Part of our problem may be that we view our process as evolved(!), advanced, and enlightened, and we see the tribal process as anachronistic, parochial, paternalistic, and intolerant.)
Whenever we need to interact with a tribe, we inevitably fall back on the only thing we're good at with tribes: we kill them, slaughter them, impose heavy-handed controls on the tribe, force them into a charade of our own system (farce democracy), and then intervene and impose our will whenever their faux-democracy goes in a direction we don't like. Because we never really thought of them as civilized, and we never really respected them as people.
Our situation is sustainable (although expensive and immoral) until the tribes have access to modern technology/weapons and adopt assymmetric techniques, or until we get tired of sending our kids to kill them, or until (gasp) they beat us.
Could it be that the tribal system is more effective? Could soccer be the answer? Could it be that maybe those Greek guys maybe didn't have the ultimate best idea?