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*On this date in 2017, Cherokee Nation v. Nash was ruled. This case decided that the descendants of former African slaves of the Cherokee Nation were entitled to tribal citizenship. A federal judge ruled in a long-running controversy that has stretched through three U.S. presidential administrations.
In the landmark decision, Judge Thomas F. Hogan settled the biggest issue in the dispute. He said a treaty signed in 1866 guarantees citizenship to the former slaves more commonly known as Freedmen and, by extension, to their descendants. "The history, negotiations, and practical construction of the 1866 treaty suggest no other result,” Hogan wrote in the 78-page ruling on Wednesday. "Consequently, the Cherokee Freedmen’s right to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation is directly proportional to native Cherokees’ right to citizenship," he concluded.
The decision isn't the first time a court ruled on the treaty. In 2006, the Cherokee Nation's highest court arrived at the same interpretation and the tribe started processing citizenship applications for Freedmen, eventually enrolling about 2,800 descendants. But tribal citizens motivated by the chief at the time went to the polls and amended their constitution in a way that prevented more Freedmen from enrolling. They also cleared the way for those already enrolled to be ousted. The new ruling should settle the debate, provided that the tribe's current leader accepts it. Chief Bill John Baker, who defeated his anti-Freedmen predecessor in 2011, has been less vocal about the Freedmen despite taking a different view on the treaty in court filings.