During the antebellum period, the Cherokee and other Southeast Native American nations known as the Five Civilized Tribes held African-American slaves as workers and property. After the American Civil War, the Cherokee Freedmen were emancipated and allowed to become citizens of the Cherokee Nation in accordance with a reconstruction treaty made with the United States in 1866. In the early 1980s, the Cherokee Nation administration amended citizenship rules to require direct descent from an ancestor listed on the “Cherokee By Blood” section of the Dawes Rolls. The change stripped descendants of the Cherokee Freedmen of citizenship and voting rights unless they satisfied this new criterion.
On March 7, 2006, the Cherokee Supreme Court ruled that the membership change was unconstitutional and that the Freedmen descendants were entitled to enroll in the Cherokee Nation. A special election, held on March 3, 2007, resulted in passage of a constitutional amendment that excluded the Cherokee Freedmen descendants from membership unless they satisfied the “Cherokee by blood” requirement. The Cherokee Nation District Court voided the 2007 amendment on January 14, 2011. This decision was overturned by a 4-1 ruling in Cherokee Nation Supreme Court on August 22, 2011.