Volume 25, 2009
Gender, Diversity, and Difference
Internal Minorities, Membership, and the Freedmen Controversy
This paper looks at recent efforts within the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma to expel descendants of the freedmen, persons of African descent held as slaves until their emancipation and subsequent adoption as tribal citizens according to the terms of an 1866 treaty. The unavoidable racial dimensions of this controversy lead me to examine it as an example of the internal minorities problem, i.e., the problem of minorities within minority cultures, familiar from the literature on liberal multiculturalism. I argue that while no single approach to the internal minorities problem is fully adequate for resolving the controversy, the balance of reasons drawn from these approaches shows expulsion of the freedmen descendants to be unjust. Furthermore, in contrast to leading theoretical approaches, a deliberative approach to multiculturalism can best account for the need to encourage critical public dialogue about underlying notions of blood, race and Cherokee identity.