Reuters is reporting that a dispute between the Cherokee Nation, the nation's second-largest Indian tribe, and the U.S. government over tribal membership of Cherokee Freedmen—blacks descended from slaves owned by wealthy Cherokee—is escalating.
"The Cherokee Nation will not be governed by the BIA," said Joe Crittenden, the tribe's acting principal chief, in a statement responding to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Crittenden, who leads the tribe until a new principal chief is elected, went on to complain about unnamed congressmen meddling in the tribe's self-governance.
The reaction follows a letter the tribe received on Monday from BIA Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk, who warned that the results of the Sept. 24 Cherokee election for principal chief will not be recognized by the U.S. government if the ousted members, known to some as "Cherokee Freedmen," are not allowed to vote.
Blacks who could not prove a blood lineage lost their Cherokee citizenship last month, a decision made by the Cherokee Supreme Court. That left them ineligible for voting rights or benefits within the Cherokee Nation.
In addition to refusing to recognize the results of the election, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is withholding a $33 million disbursement until the dispute is resolved.