Tribal Rights vs. Racial Justice

Vai1 Over at the NYT, a debate:

When the Cherokee were relocated from the South to present-day Oklahoma in the 1830s, their black slaves were moved with them. Though an 1866 treaty gave the descendants of the slaves full rights as tribal citizens, regardless of ancestry, the Cherokee Nation has tried to expel them because they lack “Indian blood.”

Akim Reinhardt over at his blog:

The political standing of the Freedmen’s descendants has long been a very disputatious subject in the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee, and Seminole nations. For their part, the Cherokee national government has recently decided that those descendants who cannot show any descent from actual Cherokees will no longer be citizens of the Cherokee nation. Those who can show Cherokee descent will maintain their citizenship.

This may sound harsh to many readers. But the issue comes down the rights of a sovereign nation to decide its own citizenship qualification. Indeed, the United States itself is currently debating a similar issue: should illegal immigrants who arrived as small children be granted limited citizenship rights such as drivers’ licenses and in-state college tuition rates despite their illegal status?

While Americans heatedly debate that issue, no one questions the right of the United States to decide the issue for itself.

However, Indian nations are still subject to American colonialism. I’ve locked horns with other scholars about this, but I believe it is an honest, real politik assessment; this case is just one among countless examples of ongoing U.S. disregard for Indian governments and of it forcing its policies upon them. The U.S. officially supports Cherokee citizenship for the descendants of freedmen. The Cherokee nation as bucked, and U.S. retribution for that is intense.