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Cherokee Nation Principal Chief seeks changes to federal Major Crimes Act

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. announced the tribe is seeking changes to federal legislature in order to provide equal rights in the federal justice system for Cherokee citizens of Freedmen descent.

The Major Crimes Act is the federal law passed in 1885 that controls criminal jurisdiction of tribal citizens on tribal reservations. However, according to Hoskin’s announcement, it has been interpreted by federal courts to apply only to tribal citizens with “Indian Blood,” which discriminates against Cherokee citizens of Freedmen descent who can be tried in state court with other non-tribal members.

“By our Cherokee Nation Constitution and our tribal statutes, all Cherokee citizens are treated equally under our laws including criminal laws, irrespective of their descendancy, but this federal law is preventing our Freedmen citizens from equal treatment in the federal courts when it comes to their legal cases and this simply is not fair,” Chief Hoskin said. “We are asking for this change through an act of Congress or through the courts so our citizens can truly be treated equal.”

Chief Hoskin and Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner made the announcement at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa.

The tribe’s 1866 Treaty with the U.S. government granted Freedmen “all the rights of native Cherokees,” the announcement said.

A 2017 federal court ruling and Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruling affirmed that Freedmen descendants are full Cherokee citizens under the law. There are currently 15,000 Cherokee Nation citizens who are of Freedman descent.

“We’ve upheld our ancestors wishes ensuring Cherokee citizens of Freedmen descent have equal protections in voting, running for office, services and in our Constitution and this specific federal law should not limit that equality,” Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said. “For Cherokee Nation, this exercise of tribal sovereignty means we count as tribal citizens all of those who descend from the Cherokee portion of the Dawes rolls in a variety of ways, including Freedmen descendants.”

Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner have reached out to the Five Tribes leaders about the changes they’re seeking. They’ve also started reaching out to members of Congress and federal officials.

According to the announcement, the citizenship rights of individuals of Freedman descent are unresolved in other tribal nations as well.

“We know there are some tribal citizens out there who may be prosecuted in state court after the U.S. Supreme Court McGirt decision, because of the Major Crimes Act,” Cherokee Nation Attorney General Chad Harsha said. “We are taking an inventory of these cases as we lobby to change this law and ensure all Cherokee citizens are treated equally as a matter of equality in the federal justice system.”

Chief Hoskin said the tribe will either find a suitable criminal case in which a Cherokee citizen of Freedmen descent is subjected to state prosecution so they can advocate the defendant within that case be treated as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He said the tribe will also explore federal legislative change which alternatively could also achieve that outcome for Cherokee citizens of freedman descent, according to the announcement.

“In both instances the necessity under federal law of a “blood quantum” must be resolved in favor of including, rather than excluding, Cherokee Nation citizens of Freedmen descent under the Major Crimes Act,” Chief Hoskin added.

More here

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