David Cornsilk

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David Cornsilk (Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians) is a professional genealogist and served as the managing editor of the Cherokee Observer, an online news website founded in 1992.[1] He founded of the grassroots Cherokee National Party in the 1990s, seeking to create a movement to promote the Nation as a political entity.[2] Cornsilk has worked for the nation as a tribal enrollment research analyst and for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a genealogical researcher. He also has his own genealogical firm.[3]

Cherokee freedmen advocacy[edit]

In the longstanding Cherokee freedmen controversy, Cornsilk has promoted inclusion of freedmen descendants in the Nation because they were made citizens in 1866 by treaty with the United States. He believes the Nation needs to stand as a political entity, be large enough to include the people in its jurisdiction, and honor its obligation to the freedmen descendants.[2][4] As he wrote,

"Anyone with some micro-thin strain of Cherokee blood should be thanking the Freedmen because they have proven that our citizenship is not based on blood or any anthropological definition of "Indian" but is a legal concept rooted in the right of the Cherokee people to determine who is and who is not a Cherokee."[5]

At the same time, he believes that the Cherokee citizens have the right to determine who shall be citizens.

Cornsilk was among Indigenous writers who commented in July 2015 on the controversy over fluctuating claims to Cherokee identity by Andrea Smith, associate professor at University of California, Riverside. He rejected her claim of being able to determine independently that she was Cherokee, saying that citizenship by law and custom was based on recognition and acceptance by other Cherokee, and that the Cherokee are very well-documented people. He noted that he could find no documentation to support her claim of Cherokee ancestry.[3] Smith originally hired Cornsilk to research her family tree, but later she was outed by others after he could find no native ancestor. This prompted him to "speak publicly about his genealogical work for Smith; and with him as a key source, The Daily Beast ran an article calling Smith the “Native American Rachel Dolezal.” [6]


  1. ^ Evans, Desiree Y. (2006-07-22). "A case study of two Cherokee newspapers and their fight against censorship". Baylor University. Dept. of Journalism. hdl:2104/3907. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ a b Sturm, Circe. "Blood Politics, Racial Classification, and Cherokee National Identity: The Trials and Tribulations of the Cherokee Freedmen", American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 1/2. (Winter – Spring, 1998), pp. 230–258
  3. ^ a b David Cornsilk, "An Open Letter to Defenders of Andrea Smith: Clearing Up Misconceptions about Cherokee Identification", Indian Country Today Media Network, 10 July 2015, accessed 10 January 2016
  4. ^ Sturm, Circe Dawn. Blood Politics: Race, Culture, and Identity in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, University of California Press, 2002
  5. ^ Cornsilk, David. "Cherokee by law in response to wannabeism". Wayback Machine. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  6. ^ Viren, Sarah. "The Native Scholar Who Wasn't". New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved 20 June 2021.

External links[edit]