First, some background (and maybe this is something you learned in school, but I certainly didn't): It turns out that back in the day Cherokees--both individuals and the tribe itself--owned slaves. Not only that, but the tribe fought for the Confederacy. As a sovereign nation, the tribe had to sign its own peace treaty with the Union at war's end, and that treaty required the tribe to absorb its former slaves as tribal citizens.
Flash forward a quarter century to the early 1890s, when the Federal government, "Indian giver" par excellence, was busy yanking back Indian Territory and turning it into something called "Oklahoma." In order to parcel out reservation land in proportion to population, the government established the Dawes Commission and charged it with taking a census of tribal membership.
The census was conducted in keeping with two other proud American traditions: (1) undercounting blacks to screw non-blacks out of some benefit (viz. the three-fifths compromise), and (2) the "one-drop" definition of blackness. As a result, tribe members of pure Cherokee or mixed Cherokee and white (only) blood were counted as "Cherokees by blood," but tribe members with any black ancestry were counted as "freedmen."
The Dawes Commission census did not change who was a Cherokee for internal purposes, however; that was still determined under the 1866 peace treaty. So from the time of emancipation up until last weekend, the Cherokee Nation included black and part-black citizens. Not that there were so many black Cherokees anymore; CNN estimates around 2800. But that was 2800 too many for 3/4 of the Cherokee electorate, who on Saturday voted to amend the Cherokee Constitution so as to exclude the freedmen.
I guess the moral of the story is that we should give up on expecting people who have been shafted by the system to learn from the experience and refrain from shafting others. Cherokee Principal Chief Chad "Corntassel" Smith--formerly a professor of Indian Law at Dartmouth--sees the issue somewhat differently. He told the Washington Post that deciding who gets to be in the tribe is "a basic, inherent right," one for which the Cherokees had "paid very dearly."
A lot of folks felt the same way about their lunch counters, Chief.