WASHINGTON, D.C. — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. provided testimony before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Wednesday, July 27, for an Oversight Hearing titled "Oversight Hearing on Select Provisions of the 1866 Reconstruction Treaties between the United States and Oklahoma Tribes."
The Cherokee Nation currently has about 11,800 citizens of Freedmen descent enrolled in the tribe. A 2017 federal court ruling in Cherokee Nation V. Nash, determined Freedmen citizens have full rights as Cherokee citizens based on the Treaty of 1866.
Chief Hoskin, Marilyn Vann, a Cherokee Nation citizen and Freedmen Descendant, and other Oklahoma tribal leaders were also invited to provide testimony.
Chief Hoskin’s full oral testimony is as follows:
Chairman Schatz, Vice Chairman Murkowski, and members of the Committee:
I am Chuck Hoskin, Jr., Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. I appreciate you inviting me to speak with you today.
Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once wrote that “Great nations, like great men, should keep their promises.”
Cherokee Nation is keeping our promise to Cherokee Freedmen and their descendants under our Treaty of 1866.
That treaty is a living, powerful, and foundational document that ties together every one of our agreements with the United States.
When we speak of our most important treaty rights—our reservation in northeast Oklahoma, our right to a delegate in the United States House of Representatives— we point to language in the treaty of 1866 which reaffirms all of our prior treaties consistent with that treaty.
Cherokees must defend and we must preserve the Treaty of 1866.
Article 9 of the Treaty of 1866 states that “all freedmen … and their descendants, shall have all the rights of native Cherokees.”
Not some of the rights—all of the rights.
Treaty obligations ought to mean something. You can’t pick and choose which parts of a treaty to uphold.
We criticize the United States when it fails to live up to its treaty obligations—yet we have the same responsibility to live up to ours.
For Cherokee Nation, the issue of Freedmen citizenship was settled 156 years ago. It was settled in a treaty agreed to by the Cherokee people, ratified by this Senate, and signed by the President of the United States.
Our ancestors agreed in 1866 to forever cede the right to exclude Freedmen and their descendants.
This means Cherokee Nation’s past actions to exclude Freedmen descendants from Cherokee Nation were void ab initio—void from the beginning.
The enslavement of other human beings and the subsequent denial to them and their descendants of their basic rights is a stain on the Cherokee Nation. It is a stain that must be lifted.
I offer an apology on behalf of Cherokee Nation for these actions. Just as important, I offer a commitment to reconciliation.
I’m proud of the many actions we’ve taken over the last five years towards reconciliation.
In 2017 a federal district judge decided the Nash case. That case confirmed that the 1866 Treaty remains alive and well and guarantees that descendants of Cherokee Freedmen shall have "all the rights of native Cherokees.” To bring the matter to a close, Cherokee Nation did not appeal.
The day after that historic decision our own Supreme Court affirmed full citizenship for Freedmen.
We immediately began processing applications for citizenship from Freedmen descendants. To this day more than 11,800 applicants have become citizens.
In 2021 our Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the “by blood” language in our Constitution also violated the Treaty of 1866. Our high court determined that those words were invalid from inception and must be removed.
Secretary Haaland reviewed our Constitution later that year and wrote that Cherokee Nation had “fulfilled their obligations to the Cherokee Freedmen.”
The Nash decision and our swift actions to implement it was a beginning, not an end. We must embrace the spirit of equality each day.
For more than a century prior to the Nash case, Freedmen had been disconnected from Cherokee Nation. Many in the Freedmen community did not have the same experiences, the same access to services, the same opportunities as non-Freedmen citizens. It is essential that we work to bridge that gap.
In late 2020, I issued an executive order on equality, reiterating our commitment to equal protection and equal opportunity under Cherokee law.
We also need to make sure that we are mindful of the Freedmen experience. In 2021, I announced the Cherokee Freedmen Art and History Project, which seeks to ensure that Freedmen voices are represented within the Cherokee story.
I’m proud to appear today with Marilyn Vann, who last year became the first Cherokee Nation citizen of Freedmen descent appointed to a government post. I appointed Marilyn to our Environmental Protection Commission.
I’m here today because it is a moral imperative that I be here. I’m here to proclaim that having finally kept our promise to Cherokee Freedmen, Cherokee Nation is a better nation and a stronger nation.
I’m here today representing a great nation committed to keeping its promise.