In its July 29th decision, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit stated “the Thirteenth Amendment and the 1866 Treaty whittled away the tribe’s sovereignty with regard to slavery and left it powerless to discriminate against the Freedmen on the basis of their status as former slaves. ..[the Tribe] lacks any sovereign interest in such behavior.”
The Court ruled that the Freedmen’s suit could go forward against Cherokee Nation officials including Principal Chief Chad Smith preventing officers from discriminating against the Freedmen in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment or 1866 Treaty.
The decision is a victory for the Freedmen and individual Indians who have won their day in court to enforce their treaty right to their identity, citizenship and equal treatment as Cherokees.
The relief the Freedmen sought in the suit was an injunction prohibiting future elections without Freedmen participation including the right to run for office.
Cherokee Freedmen Plaintiff Marilyn Vann states, “This is a victory for the Freedmen people and our birthright as Cherokees. This decision answers the question again, that the Freedmen’s treaty rights trump the right of our elected officials to oppress us. I pray that the healing of the Cherokee people begins and all Freedmen, including the 23,000 currently locked out, are reintegrated into the Nation.”
Jon Velie, lead counsel for the Freedmen states, “The Court crafted an opinion that protects both tribal sovereignty and individual Indian civil rights. The treaty of 1866 coupled with the 13th Amendment prohibits Cherokee officials from denying fundamental rights to the Freedmen citizens. We can now proceed against US and Cherokee officials without toppling the principals of tribal sovereignty. This is a great day for Indian Country.”