By Steve Olafson
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - The Cherokee Indians' principal chief, who led a campaign to remove African-American slave descendants from the tribe, filed an appeal on Monday to stop his successor from taking office after losing a reelection bid.
Chad "Corntassel" Smith wants an injunction to bar Bill John Baker, elected to replace him as chief, from being sworn in until a federal court determines if black members of the tribe known as "freedmen" are entitled to citizenship in the nation's second largest Indian tribe.
Smith, who lost the leadership poll by more than 1,500 votes, filed the appeal with the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court, whose judges he appointed during his 12-year administration.
Baker, a longtime member of the tribal council, said he was disappointed by Smith's move.
"It's time for him to abide by the will of the people," he said.
The Cherokee election has been unusual from the start. An initial election in June featured four recounts that yielded differing results. Charges of vote tampering were raised but never proven.
The Cherokee Supreme Court then ordered a new election for September, but added fuel to the political fire with an August ruling that banished 2,800 black members from the tribe in a move seen as aiding Smith.
The freedmen supported his challenger, Baker, because of Smith's efforts to ban the descendants of slaves owned by tribe members in the pre-Civil War era from citizenship. They see Baker as less hostile to their membership.
The freedmen, backed by the federal government, say they are guaranteed tribal citizenship by the Treaty of 1866 with the U.S. government, while Smith and some other Cherokee believe all members should have an ancestral Indian blood link.
The freedmen eventually regained their voting rights with the help of the federal government, which withheld funds from the tribe to pressure it into an out-of-court settlement. But the status of the freedmen is expected to remain an issue in the courts.
Smith said the agreement violates tribal law, while Baker said he would have won the election even if the freedmen had not been allowed to vote.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)