TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) — The Cherokee Nation has started processing tribal citizen applications for the descendants of black slaves once owned by tribal members.
A federal court in Washington, D.C., ended a longstanding fight last week by ruling that descendants of the slaves, known as freedmen, have the right to tribal citizenship. About 3,000 applications had been on hold amid the legal dispute.
The tribe has begun processing those applications, and its registration office near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, received about 75 visits and a "couple hundred" phone calls after the ruling, tribal spokeswoman Amanda Clinton told the Tulsa World .
Freedmen have long argued that the Treaty of 1866, signed between the U.S. government and the Oklahoma-based Cherokees, gave them and their descendants "all the rights of native Cherokees." Some tribal members argued that freedmen shouldn't be considered members unless they could show proof of Native American blood.
Last week's ruling ended a legal dispute that began in 2003. It gave Cherokee freedmen all the rights of a tribal citizen, including the ability to run for office, vote in elections and receive benefits, such as access to tribal health care and housing.
"We're happy and relieved this longstanding case is finally resolved, and now we are moving forward processing applications as quickly as possible," Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said in a statement.
While the ruling directly affects the citizenship status of more than 2,800 Cherokee Freedmen, an attorney for the group, John Velie, has said there could be as many as 25,000 people who could now be eligible to apply for citizenship.
The Cherokee Nation is the second largest tribe in the U.S., with more than 317,000 citizens.
Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com