Cherokee Freedmen and the Color of Belonging

19 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2014 Last revised: 13 Jun 2019

Date Written: September 26, 2014


This article addresses the Cherokee tribe and their historic conflict with the descendants of their former black slaves, designated Cherokee Freedmen. This article specifically addresses how historic discussions of black, red and white skin colors, designating the African-ancestored, aboriginal (Native American) and European-ancestored people of the United States, have helped to shape the contours of color-based national belonging among the Cherokee. This article also suggests that Homi K. Bhabha’s notion of postcolonial mimicry offers a potent source for analyzing the Cherokee’s historic use of skin color as a marker of Cherokee membership. The Cherokee past practice of black slavery and the past and continuing use of skin color-coded belonging not only undermines the coherence of Cherokee identity and belonging but also problematizes the notion of an explicitly aboriginal way of life by bridging Indian and white cultural difference over a point of legal and ethical contention: black inequality.

Keywords: Aboriginal, African Ancestored, Bhabha, Cherokee, Cherokee Freedmen, Citizenship, Constitutionalism, Mimicry, Native American, Postcolonialism, Slavery

JEL Classification: K30

Suggested Citation

Buckner Inniss, Lolita, Cherokee Freedmen and the Color of Belonging (September 26, 2014). 5 Columbia Journal of Race and Law 100 (2015), Cleveland-Marshall Legal Studies Paper No. 14-277, Available at SSRN:

Lolita Buckner Inniss (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

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