ArticlesVolume 5, Issue 2 (2015)

Cherokee Freedmen and the Color of Belonging

Lolita Buckner Inniss

Professor of Law, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University. Ph.D and LLM with Distinction, Osgoode Hall, York University, J. D., University of California, Los Angeles, A.B., Princeton University

Abstract

This Article addresses the Cherokee Nation and its historic conflict with the descendants of its former black slaves, designated Cherokee Freedmen. This Article specifically addresses how historic discussions of black, red, and white skin colors, designating the African-ancestored, aboriginal (Native American), and European ancestored people of the United States, have helped to shape the contours of color-based national belonging among the Cherokee. The Cherokee past practice of black slavery and the past and continuing use of skin color-coded belonging not only undermines the coherence of Cherokee sovereignty, identity, and belonging but also problematizes the notion of an explicitly aboriginal way of life by bridging red and white cultural difference over a point of legal and ethical contention: black inequality.