Marilyn VannMarilyn Vann serves as president and a director of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association, a nonprofit corporation that educates the public about the history, culture, and political rights of the African Indian peoples of the five nations (formerly known as the Five Civilized Tribes) whose ancestors were enrolled as “freedmen” tribal members by the US government Dawes Commission approximately 100 years ago. She is the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the US government department of interior, Vann et al. Versus Norton, which deals with the enforcement of the 1866 treaty rights of the Cherokee Indian Freedmen Peoples in accordance with the Cherokee Nation constitution. Marilyn has written articles pertaining to the Indian freedmen issue for the Native American Times, the Muskogee Daily Phoenix, and the Oklahoma Eagle. Marilyn has also been featured in the Los Angeles Times and Wired Magazine, the Daily Oklahoman, the New York Times, and Marilyn has also participated on panels sponsored by University and nonprofit or civic organizations pertaining to Native American issues, most recently one on “Contemporary Native American issues” at Rose State College in November 2005.

Marilyn, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is a descendant of Joseph Vann and Rider Fields, who were native Cherokee citizens by blood who immigrated to what is now eastern Oklahoma before 1860. She is also a descendant of Benjamin Love, a Chickasaw citizen by blood who came to what is now southern Oklahoma prior to 1860. Her father, a member of the Cherokee nation, was born in the Cooweescoowee District (now Nowata County, Oklahoma) and was listed on the Dawes “Final Rolls” of Cherokee citizens, the base tribal rolls prepared and recognized by the United States government and the Cherokee nation at the turn of the twentieth century and by the 1975 Cherokee tribal constitution.

Marilyn Vann graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor of Science in petroleum engineering with distinction. She is the first known female of African descent to graduate from that discipline at the University of Oklahoma. She has been employed with the federal government as an engineer for the past twenty-four years in Oklahoma City.

Marilyn is a baptized Christian and a member of the Protestant faith. She enjoys attending educational events such as the Sovereignty Symposium and the National Congress of Indians, cultural events such as exhibition stomp dances and powwows, and political events such as Cherokee nation tribal council meetings and committee meetings. She is a member of NAACP and SAIGE (Society of American Indians in Government). She is married and has one adult daughter. Marilyn can be reached at the Descendants of Freedmen website,


Panel Theme:

History and Plight of Descendants of Cherokee and Creek Freedmen Indians

Panel Members:
Gail Jackson, a professional genealogist and citizen of the Natchez nation, is treasurer of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association, a nonprofit corporation.

David Cornsilk, is a citizen of the Cherokee nation and former employee of the Cherokee nation registration department and of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  

Marilyn Vann is a citizen of the Cherokee nation and president of the Descendants of Freedmen  of the Five Civilized Tribes Association.                 

The  Cherokee and Creek Freedmen were people of African descent who were  free,  noncitizen,  mixed black-Indian people legally living within the tribal jurisdiction or  former slaves of Creek or Cherokee tribal members who gained citizenship in their tribes in 1866 due to agreements between those tribes and the federal government and tribal legislation. Although the status of freedmen tribal members  within these two tribal nations was generally  good between 1866 and 1907 (the year of Oklahoma statehood), the status of the freedmen drastically plummeted after Oklahoma statehood with the passage of “Jim Crow “and miscegenation laws applied against persons with “one drop of African blood.” Between 1907 and 1970, the tribal governments were  dissolved by an act of Congress except for the right of the US President to appoint a principal chief at his pleasure.  Due in part to  forced divisions within the tribes between those of African blood and those without, a lack of knowledge about the Freedmen people’s rights,  contributions and history in the tribes by twentieth-century  tribal leaders, and to political factionalism within the tribes pertaining to tribal elections, the Freedmen tribal members and their descendants were eventually forced out of their own tribes without their consent in the late 1970s and early 1980s after the tribal governments were reestablished in these two nations under the principal chiefs Act. Descendants of Freedmen have agitated through the federal and tribal courts for a return to their tribal membership rights and voting rights based on their treaty rights and the tribal constitutions of these two Indian nations.  The descendants of Freedmen tribal members have seen success in their efforts in recent tribal court decisions in both nations.

David Cornsilk will discuss the early years of the Cherokee nation, including cases dealing with sovereignty, the  early adoption of people of African descent into the Cherokee as citizens, the 1866 treaty, the 1975 constitution, Cherokee nation registration policies during the 1980s, the 2001 case  Riggs vs. Umertestee, Acting Registrar of the Cherokee nation (JAT 97-03 )  tried in the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court (JAT), and the recent case Allen vs. Cherokee Nation Tribal Council ( JAT 04-09) tried in the JAT, which reestablished the membership rights of Cherokee Freedmen descendants to membership in the Cherokee Nation in March 2006.

Marilyn Vann will discuss the Dawes Commission and the purpose of the Dawes Indian Rolls, Federal court cases, and legislation affecting the rights of the Freedmen tribal members after 1866, including the case Cherokee Nation vs. United States 180 Ct. Cl. 181 (May 1967), Title 25 Sec 991, Nero vs. Cherokee Nation - 892 F.2d 1457 (1989), Seminole Nation vs. Norton, No. Civ. A. 02-0730 (RBW), 2002 WL 31109804 (D.D.C. Sept. 23, 2002), the 2003 year tribal elections, and the ongoing case filed in August 2003 in  the Washington, DC, District Court:  Vann et al. vs. Norton (1:03 CV01711). 

Gail Jackson will discuss the history of the Creek nation regarding the rights of individuals of African descent prior to Oklahoma statehood; leading citizens of the Creek nation of African descent such as interpreters Harry Island and Cow Tom prior to Oklahoma statehood; Freedmen enrollment in the Creek Nation on the Dawes Rolls; reestablishment of the Creek government during the early 1970s; the 1979 Creek Nation constitution; the importance of Muskogee Creek Nation ordinances NCA 81-06, which allowed Creek Freedmen to establish they are “Creeks by blood”; the current Creek Nation ordinances: NCA 01-135 (effective August 23, 2001) and their effect on Creek Freedmen descendants’ ability  to gain tribal membership in the Creek nation; and the recently decided cases:  Ron Graham vs.  Muskogee Creek Nation Citizenship Board (CV 2003-53)  and Fred Johnson vs.  Muskogee Creek Nation Citizenship Board (CV 2003-54).