Slave descendants fight to stay in Cherokee tribe

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) ? Nearly 3,000 people whose ancestors were enslaved by Cherokee Indians in the 1800s are fighting to keep their status as members of the tribe.

Just as many white Americans owned black slaves until after the Civil War, so did some Cherokee tribesmen. The practice generally ended with an 1866 treaty that freed the slaves and afforded them the same rights as native Cherokees.

But leaders of the Cherokee Nation have been trying to change that policy. They want to declare that the descendants should not be considered Cherokee citizens unless they can show proof of Indian blood.

If the tribe succeeds, the descendants stand to lose part of their identity and valuable benefits such as medical care, housing assistance and grocery stipends.