From life before European contact to the Trail of Tears to the modern-day tribal government, the Cherokee National History Museum tells the long, rich story of the Cherokee people.
But one of the darkest chapters of Cherokee history remained absent from its walls, until recently.
The Cherokee National History Museum in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, opened a new exhibit last month about the Cherokee Freedmen, or the Black people once enslaved by the tribe. The exhibit, titled “We Are Cherokee: Cherokee Freedmen and the Right to Citizenship,” details the decades-long fight by Freedmen and their descendants to be recognized as citizens of the tribe, illuminating it through art, family photos, enrollment applications and other records.
he display, which greets museum visitors as they first walk in, is one of several recent steps taken by the Cherokee Nation to reckon with its history of slavery.
“This museum exhibit is really the latest in our ongoing effort to not just adhere to legal requirements of equality, but to really embrace the spirit of equality and to explore this part of Cherokee history that, frankly, has been diminished and not talked about for generations,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. told CNN.
Cherokee Freedmen were long denied their rights
The history of the Cherokee Freedmen spans from the late 18th century to present day.
Though the Cherokee engaged in captivity before Europeans arrived in the Americas, White settlers introduced them to the practice of racialized chattel slavery. As the federal government sought to “civilize” Indigenous people, the Cherokee and other tribes in the Southeast adopted norms and practices of White settlers, including enslaving Black people. When the US government forced the Cherokee to leave their homelands in the Southeast and relocate west of the Mississippi River, enslaved Black people came with them.
Continue reading at CNN