(Photo: US District Court for the District of Columbia)
Having just won the right to vote in a special election for a principal chief, descendants of Black slaves once owned by members of the Cherokee Nation may have lost a little hope on Friday when a federal judge dismissed one of two of their lawsuits.
U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy ruled that the Treaty of 1866 gave 2,800 descendants of slaves once owned by the Nation, or so-called freedmen, “all the rights of native Cherokees,” including free health care and educational concessions. The judge decided that the tribe was immune to a lawsuit in a federal court, because it had never waived its sovereignty under the treaty.
The second lawsuit, initiated by the Cherokees, argued that federal statutes modified the 1866 treaty in a way that no longer provided the freedmen rights to tribal citizenship. Judge Kennedy transferred the case back to federal court in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where it was originally filed.
Jon Velie, an attorney representing the descendants, said that he was disappointed with the ruling but that the fight is not over.
"It's a technical ruling. It didn't determine whether the treaty was valid or whether the freedmen were or were not citizens," Velie told the Associated Press Friday night.
The freedmen have not announced whether they will appeal the court’s ruling.
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