The Cherokee kept black slaves until 1866, when an emancipation treaty freed them from bondage and granted them full tribal citizenship. Known as the Freedmen, these men and women were embraced by the Cherokee as equals, and often married the offspring of their former masters. . . they identified with local cultures, spoke tribal languages, and took part in tribal religious rites.Now, however, it looks like the Cherokees aren't quite as keen on recognizing the progeny of these Freedmen. Why?
Leslie Ross has been denied citizenship in the tribe on the grounds that he is not truly Indian. "They said I don't have any Indian blood. They say blacks have never had a part in the Cherokee Nation," says Ross, his usually calm voice swelling with anger. "The thing is, there wouldn't be a Cherokee Nation if it weren't for my great-grandfather. Jesus, he was more Indian than the Indians!" [According to the piece, Leslie Ross is and ancestor or Stick Ross, who " is thought to be the illegitimate grandson of Chief John Ross, who led the tribe along the Trail of Tears."]Where did the money come from? Casinos.
Ross is just one of at least 25,000 direct descendants of Freedmen who cannot join Oklahoma's largest tribes. Once paragons of racial inclusion and assimilation, the Native American sovereign nations have done an about-face and systematically pushed out people of African descent. "There's never been any stigma about intermarriage," says Stu Phillips, editor of The Seminole Producer, a local newspaper in central Oklahoma. "You've got Indians marrying whites, Indians marrying blacks. It was never a problem until they got some money."