Statement from Secretary Marcia L. Fudge on the Descendants of Freedmen
Secretary Marcia L. Fudge today released the following statement regarding Tribal citizenship for the descendants of Freedmen:
The legacy of slavery represents a stain upon the fabric of our great nation, and the inequities it created still exist today. Though there is much work to be done, America continues to take significant steps in the march towards healing old wounds and creating a more just, inclusive, and equitable society.
In May of this year, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland approved a new Constitution for the Cherokee Nation. The Nation amended its Constitution to explicitly recognize descendants of the Freedmen – persons previously enslaved by some members of the Tribe – as eligible citizens of the Cherokee Nation. Secretary Haaland acknowledged that “The Nation’s actions have brought this longstanding issue to a close and have importantly fulfilled their obligations to the Cherokee Freedmen.”
I strongly echo Secretary Haaland’s statement, and I am pleased that the Cherokee Nation has enrolled over 8,500 Freedmen as citizens. With this decision, the Cherokee Nation recognizes the Freedmen as Cherokee citizens. Importantly, 155 years after the Treaty of 1866, a unanimous Cherokee Nation Supreme Court affirmed the rights of Freedmen and their descendants, specifically stating that, through these actions, “the Cherokee Nation, as a whole, lifts itself into the 21st century and sheds the heavy weight of antebellum and the pervasiveness of racism and racial injustice in favor of equality and justice for all.”
Unequivocally, this latest action opens the door to access a wide range of services, including assistance under HUD programs, and brings descendants of the Freedman into the fold of the Cherokee Nation family.
As we continue to forge a fairer and more equitable America, it is steps like these taken by the Cherokee Nation that set an example of what we can achieve. Tribes as sovereign nations have the inherent right to determine Tribal citizenship and membership. This is an example of a Tribe exercising its sovereignty to create a more inclusive future for all its members.
I encourage the four remaining Tribal Nations in Oklahoma to follow the lead of the Cherokee Nation and afford the descendants of the Freedmen the equal access to assistance and services under HUD programs as their other Tribal citizens.