Cherokee to consider plan to defend against Freedman lawsuit 4-17-07

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) - The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council will consider a proposal next month to spend $500,000 to defend a lawsuit regarding the expulsion of descendants of freed slaves from the tribe.

The tribe's Executive and Finance Committee approved using $520,000 for lawsuit defense during a meeting on Monday, but the vote was nonbinding. During a tribal council meeting Monday night, the proposal was offered as a friendly amendment to a budget modification, but the issue was tabled, said Mike Miller, a spokesman for the tribe.

The full council will consider the plan at its regular meeting in May, Miller said.

Tribal citizens on March 3 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the tribal constitution to limit citizenship to descendants of ``by blood'' tribal members.

The result of the vote excluded an estimated 2,800 freedmen - descendants of the people the Cherokee once owned as slaves.

Several councilors opposed funding the nation's fight against the freedmen, saying they were using tribal funds to kick out tribal citizens. But council attorney Todd Hembree said the lawsuit was about tribal sovereignty and that he expects some kind of injunction will be filed over the matter.

``It would be bad for us to lose the lawsuit because it would attack our sovereign immunity,'' Hembree said. ``Although $500,000 is an immense amount of money it's possible this could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.''

Councilor Taylor Keen argued against the additional $520,000 expenditure, saying everything about the special election to oust the freedmen was forced.

``We might have foresaw this kind of action was going to happen,'' Keen said.

Councilor Joe Crittenden said he also could not support the measure to fight the freedmen.