A heated argument erupted during the Cherokee Nation Rules Committee meeting Thursday afternoon, Feb. 25, during a discussion about the tribal attorney general’s report on the status of the Freedmen.

AG Sara Hill indicated repeatedly that the Cherokee Nation has an obligation to maintain the Treaty of 1866, which bestows citizenship upon enslaved people who "belonged" to Cherokees.

Councilor Wes Nofire insisted that the Cherokee Nation is not obligated to stand by this treaty because it contradicts the tribe's constitution, which requires citizens to maintain a blood quantum by having at least one ancestor on the Dawes Rolls.

Hill told the Tribal Council that if the Cherokee Nation expects the U.S. to honor its treaties, then it must do the same, but Nofire continued to disagree on "principle."

“Only the people have the right to strike the Constitution. That is a question for the people to decide, not the courts,” said Nofire.

Others weighed in, including Councilor Joe Deere, who pointed out the Cherokees did not have blood quantum before the Dawes Rolls. He explained that the idea of "quantum" was a tool created by the United States to colonize Cherokee people and other Native Americans.

“They are Cherokee citizens, and no longer Freedmen,” said Deere.

Councilor Mike Shambaugh and Speaker Joe Byrd both said they felt compelled to follow the law, which means a recent Cherokee Supreme Court decision that the "by blood" reference be stricken from the constitution.

“This was a shock, and all of a sudden, you get a text saying that this is going on. I wish that we got a heads up that this had been filed,” said Shambaugh.

He shared his experience and the difficulty of the decision.

“I’m kind of heartbroken, because it’s difficult to see a non-Cherokee in that position that does not have Cherokee blood. That’s a difficult thing for me to swallow. I will support whatever is best for our Cherokee people, because I don’t want to lose our Cherokee rights. I don’t want to put us in that position, but this is a difficult thing for me. We need to do what’s best for our nation,” he said.

Councilor Canaan Duncan sided with Deere.

“Blood quantum is a European concept. Traditionally, there was one way that you knew whether someone was Cherokee: You’d ask them," said Duncan. "This is one of those times we can honor our ancestors by upholding what they expressed in the Treaty of 1866."

Nathan Bernard was unanimously accepted as district judge through resolution, but not without some debate. Nofire again spoke up to express concern that the judge does not live within the borders of the Cherokee Nation.

“You would be the third district judge who lives outside our reservation. The laws wouldn’t apply to you, yet you’d be judging over people on laws that you don’t have to live over,” Nofire said.

The Rules Committee voted affirmatively on Item 2, which relates to the naming of the J.W. Sam-Gadusa Building in Catoosa. But Byrd recommended the name be changed to Gadusi to reflect the correct Cherokee spelling.

The panel also voted to establish Title 10A of the Cherokee Nation Code and Item 4, which will establish the Cherokee Nation Public Health and Wellness Fund.

What's next

The next Cherokee Nation Rules Committee meeting is slated for 1 p.m. Thursday, March 25, in the Tribal Council offices.

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