I agree with almost everything in today’s Our View on the Cherokee Freedmen. I have to take issue with one line, though. The editorial approvingly cites Rep. Diane Watson’s comment that expulsion of the Cherokee Freedmen is akin to “ethnic cleansing.”
That is a totally inappropriate use of the term, which typically refers to the mass slaughter of an ethnic group. It is needlessly inflammatory to use a word referring to one of the worst crimes that humanity is capable of in ordinary politics. Some variation of Godwin’s Law has to apply here.
Not to mention that when it comes to both Indians and former slaves, the United States government is far more guilty of ethnic cleansing than the Cherokees will ever be.
While I ultimately support her side in the issue, Rep. Watson has on the whole been a terrible advocate for the Freedmen’s cause, whether through irresponsible talk about ethnic cleansing or an earlier claim that she is a descendant of Pocahontas.
It’s a cliche that anyone white or black or any color in between will claim to have an “Indian princess” ancestor, which is too often a superficial appropriation of Indian identity by people who do not take it seriously. Frustration at such sentiments may be one of the reasons that the vote to expel the Freedmen passed so overwhelmingly.
From an editorial by Indian Country Today:
In the Indian world, it is said that aside from tribal enrollment or documented proof of citizenship, it is indicative of one’s identity as an Indian person if you consider yourself part of something rather than part-something. As a vocal proponent for the freedmen, Watson should realize that their strongest claim to full Cherokee citizenship lies in their family and community ties to the nation. These tangible bonds matter just as much as Watson’s notions of indiscernible Indian-ness by blood.
While it is important to protect the Freedmen’s right to be in the tribe, if it is done at the expense of making all other Cherokees into villains then it will do lasting damage to the Cherokee Nation. Watson and other overzealous defenders of the Freedmen would do well to recognize this.
Photo: Rep. Diane Watson (D – Calif.)