By Blood 
February/March 2018

Co-directors Marcus Barberry and Sam Russell tell the story of the “freedmen”—African Americans who trace their lineage to freed slaves who became members of various tribes, including the Seminole and Cherokee Nation—in this troubling documentary. The filmmakers focus their inquiry specifically on Oklahoma, where Jon Velie—an attorney who majored in Native American history at the University of California at Berkeley—has been representing freedmen since they were disenfranchised by their tribe in 1999. One of his clients, Sylvia Davis, is an African American woman of Seminole descent. After being disenfranchised she lost access to tribal benefits including healthcare and housing assistance. In 2003, freedmen also lost the right to vote in tribal elections. Although Velie’s litigation helped to overturn that restriction, benefits remain elusive. And even though a lay advocate named David Cornsilk won his case on behalf of Lucy Allen, the Cherokee Nation proceeded to amend their tribal constitution in order to disenfranchise African American members again. The film’s title, By Blood, comes from a section of a turn of the century census which was used to make the restricting amendment (as opposed to the Treaty of 1866, which recognizes freedmen as tribal members). In 2008 a bill was introduced that aimed to withdraw federal funds until such time that the Cherokee Nation recognizes the freedmen, but by 2009, this bill—which the Cherokee Nation fought with all their might—was dead. As the documentary ends, legal battles on behalf of the freedmen continue, but it’s hard to tell if they will receive the recognition they seek. A thought-provoking film—with extras including bonus scenes—this is recommended. Aud: C, P. (K. Fennessy)


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