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Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Reauthorization Act of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

The CHAIRMAN. The Clerk will designate the amendment.

The text of the amendment is as follows:

Amendment No. 6 offered by Mr. Watt:

Page 3, line 9, strike the quotation marks and the last period.

Page 3, after line 9, insert the following:

``(l) Limitation on Use for Cherokee Nation.--No funds authorized under this Act, or the amendments made by this Act, or appropriated pursuant to an authorization under this Act or such amendments, shall be expended for the benefit of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma until the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is in full compliance with the Treaty of 1866 and fully recognizes all Cherokee Freedmen and their descendants as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.''.

The CHAIRMAN. The gentleman from North Carolina is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, I am offering this amendment not proudly, unfortunately, but because of circumstances that have arisen that I will describe briefly and create the context for the amendment.

In 1866, after the Cherokee Nation, which at that time also owned slaves, had gone through tremendous imposition by the United States and forced off of their land, including the people that they owned as slaves, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma entered into a treaty with the United States under which it agreed to make not only the Indians who were Cherokees, but their slaves, members of the Cherokee Nation. Unfortunately, in March of 2007, the Cherokee Nation decided that it would, in violation of the 1866 treaty, take action to, in effect, rescind the citizenship of the descendants of the African Americans who had been their slaves, the so-called ``Cherokee Freedmen.'' That has created a tension between the African American community and the Cherokee Nation, which can best be described as unfortunate because there is so much common heritage there between the Cherokee Nation and African Americans, and common experience. And this has created a divide which we hope will soon be repaired and restored.

I'm in the unique position of understanding both sides of this because I understand when the Cherokee Nation says that in order to be a Cherokee, one has to have some Cherokee blood. And that is a position that is not a racist position. It is a position of establishing their ancestry, their blood lineage; and I have respect for that.

And I'm in the unique position of having a great-great-grandmother who was a Cherokee. I'm also in the unique position of being an African American and understanding that the fact of what the Cherokee Nation has done would be exactly the same as if the United States of America, having imported black people from Africa and enslaved them, once slavery had ended, had taken the position that slaves could not be citizens of the United States.

So I understand both sides of this argument. And I have tried to walk down the middle of it, but there is no way to reconcile those two positions. And so I reluctantly offer this amendment that would have the effect of denying funds that may be appropriated pursuant to the provisions of this bill, to the authority that is given under this bill, it would deny those funds from the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma until such time that they recognize the Freedmen as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

With that, that's the essence of the amendment, and I will yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

The CHAIRMAN. The gentleman from North Carolina is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, I am not going to oppose the amendment to the amendment that I have offered. I do want to make a couple of points. First of all, some question has been raised about the timing of my offering of the underlying amendment. I did not choose the timing of this. This bill is on the floor today. And if my amendment is not on the bill, who knows when there will be another opportunity to deliver this message and to create an impediment pending the outcome of the litigation.

So I am perfectly content with the current status of the events in the sense that the court has said to the Cherokee Nation in a temporary injunction that you cannot exclude the Freedmen from the Cherokee Nation. As long as that court order stays in effect, I consider that we are at the result, which is the appropriate result. But if by chance 6 months down the road, 3 months down the road, 2 months down the road, a contrary set of circumstances exist, either the court withdraws its temporary restraining order or rules in a way that I don't think with any kind of justification it can rule against the Cherokee Freedmen, then this language will be in the bill and would appropriately have been put in the bill today. I can't come back 6 months from now and put it in the bill that is passed today.

So I didn't choose the timing of this. I am having to do this in the time frame that this bill is moving. So in a sense, the gentleman from Oklahoma (Mr. Boren) has served a very useful purpose here to basically codify everyone's agreement that as long as the court retains the status quo, allows Cherokee Freedmen to be citizens of the Cherokee Nation, that is an appropriate outcome for the case. And if that ceases to be the case, then this language would then take effect in the bill.

Mr. Chairman, for that I think we are indebted to Mr. Boren for clarifying that. I appreciate him and will not oppose the amendment.

The CHAIRMAN. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from Oklahoma (Mr. Boren) to the amendment offered by the gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Watt).

The amendment to the amendment was agreed to.


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