Marilyn Vann speaks on Tahlequah campus
TNE Editor
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Marilyn Vann speaks on Tahlequah campus

Published 1/29/19

Taylor Austin

TNE Writer

The Center for Tribal Studies, the Center for Women’s Studies and the History department invited Marilyn Vann, Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association president, to speak on campus. Vann is known for her work within the judicial system, fighting the racial discrimination of African-Indian freedmen and their descendants and educating the public on the history of the freedmen.

“Our association is working to end discrimination against Cherokee freedmen tribal members and make sure they fully participate as members of the tribe so far as cultural and as tribal voters,” said Vann.

Vann ensures the court system upholds the agreements of the 1866 reconstruction treaties of the Five Civilized Tribes. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the treaty states that any African slaves held within the tribes would be free and given tribal rights. The issues arise from the documentation of the Dawes Roll and if the freedmen got proper identification. This affects the descendants of the freedmen and their ability to participate in voting and other tribal rights.

During my talk at NSU, I will be educating the public about some of the women whose work and or actions were important to the ultimate victory of the Cherokee freedmen tribal members in retaining their citizenship,” said Vann. “Some of the ladies are Cherokee freedwomen but some are not.”

Vann specifically fought in the 2007 Cherokee Nation v. Nash case. The nation voted that citizenship came only by blood, not the Dawes Roll, which stripped freedmen of their tribal rights. The judge ruled in favor of the Cherokee freedmen, citing the original wording from the 1866 treaty. This granted Vann her own citizenship.

“Historically, women have been at the forefront of many social and political movements,” said Suzanne Farmer, Center for Women’s Studies director. “I am excited to hear Marilyn Vann discuss the role of women and their contributions to the fight of the Cherokee freedmen to achieve tribal equality.”

Tahlequah is the Cherokee Nation capitol and February is Black History Month, so having Vann come speak on campus is a way to honor both heritages. All of the departments involved want to provide an opportunity for students to hear differing perspectives.

“Part of the mission of the Center for Tribal Studies is to provide scholarly activities and a neutral space to have conversations affecting our Indigenous communities,” said Sara Barnett, Center for Tribal Studies director.

Inviting diverse figures like Vann to campus encourages students to have an open dialogue about events that might not be discussed in daily college life. Dane West, Stigler junior, and Earnest Cobb, Tulsa freshman, talked about what it meant to them as college students to have Vann speak on campus.

“You get to learn about their background and history,” said Cobb. “It opens your eyes to the whole world and the surroundings around you.”

While Vann initially fought for freedom within her own tribe, the association represents the Five Civilized Tribes which consists of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole. According to NSU’s American Indian Profile, 33.9 percent of native students are from a tribe that is not Cherokee. West is part of the Choctaw tribe, but Vann’s background still speaks to him.

“We also had to deal with some of the freedmen issues,” said West. “While I don’t think we have the same stances as the Cherokee at this point, it would be interesting to know what arguments she used and how she was able to get that done.”

If interested, there are additional collaboration events between the Center for Women’s Studies an, the History department and the Center for Tribal Studies in the future. Farmer invites students to reach out to her for more information on the Center for Women’s studies and the History department. The Center for Tribal studies is also planning more student programming.

“Our office often collaborates with Center for Women's Studies and works closely with professors from the department of History on different events,” said Barnett. “With limited resources available, it is sometimes required in order to continue to expand programming offered on campus. It is always a pleasure to work with different departments and offices. I enjoy the spirit of collaboration my colleagues embody.”

Vann is speaking at 2 p.m., Feb. 26. The location is still being determined. For more information, email the Center for Tribal Studies at or call them at 918-444-4350.

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