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Interior Secretary Haaland Approves New Cherokee Nation Constitution

U.S. Department of the Interior

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland approved on Wednesday a new constitution for the Cherokee Nation, one that ensures full citizenship for descendants of Freedmen.

Haaland was confirmed as Interior secretary March 15, and the agency said Cherokee Nation submitted the constitution for approval March 12.

"To the surprise of no one, a Native American woman gets in there and gets it done in a few weeks, what took previous leaders years to work on. So, I’m proud of her. I think it shows her dedication to serving Indian Country and the United States," said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Junior.

Haaland said in a statement the new constitution fulfills Cherokee Nation’s obligations to its Freedmen, and she encouraged other tribes to take similar steps. 

Earlier this year upon request of Attorney General Sara Hill, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court struck the words "by blood" from the constitution, following a 2017 federal court ruling that the tribe’s treaty with the U.S. does not allow them to deny full citizenship to descendants of formerly enslaved Black people.

A 2007 referendum to Cherokee Nation's 1999 constitution had denied Freedmen their citizenship.

Hoskin said Haaland’s approval doesn’t really change anything about how Cherokee Nation operates.

"My view’s always been that the federal government’s need to affirm our constitution is very paternalistic in nature. It’s really a product of a bygone era, thank goodness, but it’s one that because federal law still requires it, we wanted to make sure it happened. So, I think it’s largely symbolic, but I think any time you get the affirmation of something that is required by federal law, it’s reason to celebrate," Hoskin said.

Cherokee Nation counts about 8,500 enrolled citizens of Freedmen descent.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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