“The ‘by blood’ language found within the Cherokee Nation Constitution, and any laws which flow from that language, is illegal, obsolete and repugnant to the ideal of liberty,” the ruling states. “These words insult and degrade the descendants of Freedmen much like the Jim Crow laws found lingering on the books in Southern state some fifty-seven years after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”
Sara Hill, the attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, said she pushed for the removal language after it was used to delegitimize Ms. Vann’s candidacy for an at-large tribal council seat. When Ms. Vann declared her candidacy in December, a challenger and citizens claimed she did not meet the tribe’s “by blood” constitutional requirement.
The complaints referred to a 2007 amendment to the tribe’s constitution “to limit citizenship in the Cherokee Nation to only those persons who were descended from individuals who appeared on the Dawes Rolls as Cherokee, Shawnee or Delaware by blood.”
More than 75 percent of Cherokee citizens had voted in 2007 to approve the amendment. The Dawes Rolls were lists of tribal members assembled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“I saw those words being thrown around as if people wanted to give them new meaning again, and I thought it was time to get those words removed from our law and our constitution,” Ms. Hill said, “because I could see they were being used to belittle and demean the rights of Cherokee Freedmen.”
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation said the tribal nation needed to confront its history of enslaving humans and the lasting repercussions of failing to recognize the Freedmen as citizens. Mr. Hoskin said the tribe had shifted toward recognizing the Freedmen after the 2017 ruling and believed removing any anti-Freedmen language from its Constitution was fulfilling a promise made by its ancestors.
“The United States government has broken all of its treaty obligations,” he said. “The Cherokee Nation is better than that.”