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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 March 2007, 09:47 GMT
Cherokees eject slave descendants
Ruth Adair Nash (right), a freedman descendant, with family members
Descendancy stems from the 19th Century Dawes Commission lists
Members of the Cherokee Nation of native Americans have voted to revoke tribal citizenship for descendants of black slaves the Cherokees once owned.

A total of 76.6% voted to amend the tribal constitution to limit citizenship to "blood" tribe members.

Supporters said only the Cherokees had the right to determine tribal members.

Opponents said the amendment was racist and aimed at preventing those with African-American heritage from gaining tribal revenue and government funding.

The Cherokee Nation has 250,000 to 270,000 members, second only to the Navajo.

'Right to vote'

The list of descendants stems from the Dawes Commission, established by Congress more than 100 years ago.

This is a sad chapter in Cherokee history
Taylor Keen,
tribal council member

It created what are known as the final rolls, establishing different categories including: "blood" Cherokee, Cherokee freedman (of African descent), Cherokee by intermarriage and Delaware Cherokee.

Principal Chief Chad Smith said about 8,700 people had voted - more than the turnout for the Cherokee constitution vote of four years ago.

He said: "The Cherokee people exercised the most basic democratic right, the right to vote.

"Their voice is clear as to who should be citizens of the Cherokee Nation. No-one else has the right to make that determination."

But opponents of the amendment levelled accusations of discrimination.

Tribal council member Taylor Keen said: "This is a sad chapter in Cherokee history... this is not my Cherokee Nation. My Cherokee Nation is one that honours all parts of her past."

Saturday's vote followed a ruling by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court last year securing tribal citizenship for descendants of freedmen.

Members can obtain government benefits and tribal services including housing and medical support.

Slaves were held by a number of native American tribes and were freed after the Civil War in 1866.

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