Black Creeks take Tribe to court: April trial decides tribal citizenship
(OKMULGEE, Okla.) A years-long legal battle for Black Creeks seeking reinstatement in the tribal nation of their ancestors comes down to a trial set for April 4 in front of Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Judge Denette Mouser.
Plaintiffs Rhonda Grayson and Jeff Kennedy are represented by Greenwood District attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons. They’re suing the Muscogee Nation Citizenship Board for denying them citizenship based on being designated “Freedmen,” the descendants of Black people who were once enslaved by the tribe.
A coalition of Black Creek supporters–Justice for Greenwood, the Terence Crutcher Foundation, and the Muscogee Creek Indian Freedmen Band–are urging people to attend the trial. It takes place at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Courthouse in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, at 10:00 a.m.
To register for the event, click here.
“There are thousands of Black Creek citizens who should be entitled to that birthright and the benefits that come with it,” attorney Solomon-Simmons told The Black Wall Street Times in February. “Their families helped build the Creek nation.”
U.S. Treaty vs. tribal constitution
After years of delays and preliminary legal hearings, Judge Mouser delayed ruling on the lawsuit in December, setting the stage for a trial that begins on April 4.
Black Creeks argue that the tribe should respect the 1866 Treaty with the U.S. government. It declared Black Creeks and their descendants perpetual citizens of the tribe with full rights.
Meanwhile, the Muscogee Nation Attorney General represents the Citizenship Board. They argue that the tribe should instead respect the tribal constitution, which was revised in 1979 to exclude anyone who isn’t Creek “by-blood”.
“Treaties, as we all know, are supreme laws of the land. And that constitution should not overrule the Treaty of 1866,” Rhonda Grayson told The Black Wall Street Times after a court hearing in February.
After being kicked out of the tribe of their ancestors, Black Creeks fight back
Creeks of African descent, both free and enslaved, have served in influential roles in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation for centuries. When the Five Tribes were forced on a death march to Indian Territory in the 1830s, tribal members of African descent were forced to carry their luggage and died with them.
In an attempt to assimilate and shield itself from the threat of European expansion, the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole Nations adopted slavery, and many fought for the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War.
Following the Union victory, the U.S. government entered into a series of treaties with the tribal nations. Among other things, the treaty stipulated that they must abolish slavery and extend full citizenship rights to Black Creeks and their descendants.
Yet in 1979, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation rewrote its constitution, which excluded Creek Freedmen from tribal citizenship. For decades, attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who descends from a Black Creek who helped draft the 1866 treaty, has been fighting in the courts on behalf of his kin.
“It absolutely impacts me. It impacts my family. I am a Black creek. I was a citizen until they kicked us out,” Solomon-Simmons told The Black Wall Street Times in February.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation AG denies Black Creek heritage
Meanwhile, in a statement shared with Mvskoke Media, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General Geri Wisner appeared to imply that Black Creeks don’t belong in the tribe.
“It is clear that the Citizenship Board followed the law in denying Plaintiffs’ applications for citizenship. The Muscogee (Creek) Constitution sets forth clear standards that make no provision for extending citizenship to non-Creek individuals,” Attorney General Wisner said.
Currently, out of the Five Tribes, only the Cherokee Nation has restored full citizenship to its formerly enslaved Black members. That only came in 2017 after a federal court ruling.
The Black Creek lawsuit aims to restore citizenship rights to:
Creeks of “African Descent.”
Free “Africans” living as citizens of the Creek Nation.
“Mixed blood” Creek Nation citizens.
Individuals who were enslaved by Muscogee (Creek) Nation, who were listed as Creek Freedmen on the Dawes Rolls because of the color of their skin.
Timeline of events
Plaintiffs represent their ancestors, who hope the Muscogee (Creek) Nation will settle the dispute and end the racial apartheid. It’s been a long journey to justice for Black Creeks, who helped build Historic Greenwood District, home to Black Wall Street.
August 11, 1866: Muscogee (Creek) Nation signs treaty with U.S. government abolishing slavery and giving full citizenship to the formerly enslaved people of African descent and their descendants.
October 9, 1979: Muscogee (Creek) Nation drafts new constitution excluding Freedmen descendants.
2005: Muscogee (Creek) Nation Supreme Court overturns tribal court decision that was in favor of Black Creeks.
2019: Federal court rejects Black Creeks’ lawsuit, saying they must first exhaust all remedies within the tribal court.
November 30, 2022: Coalition of Black Creeks and supporters hold rally inside Greenwood Cultural Center ahead of court hearing.
December 1, 2022: Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Judge Denette Mouser delays ruling on citizenship lawsuit.
February 9, 2023: Judge Mouser calls out Muscogee (Creek) Nation attorney general for refusing to turn over documents. Mouser gives deadline to turn over documents.
March 17, 2023: Final deadline for Muscogee (Creek) Nation to turn over documents ends; Judge awards fees in favor of plaintiffs Rhonda Grayson and Jeff Kennedy.
April 4 – April 6, 2023: Trial begins for Black Creeks seeking reinstatement into the tribal nation of their ancestors.
Tribal sovereignty or racist hypocrisy?
Ultimately, Black Creeks are hoping the Muscogee (Nation) Court will settle the dispute without the plaintiffs having to seek remedy at the federal level.
Notably, the tribal nation successfully used Article 1 of the 1866 Treaty to defend their sovereignty and land against Oklahoma governmental interference in the U.S. Supreme Court McGirt v. Oklahoma decision. Meanwhile, the tribal nation continues to ignore Article 2 of that same treaty, which expressly states Black Creeks are full citizens entitled to equal benefits.
Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons said he hopes the discrimination will be rectified within the Muscogee Creek Nation court system without having to go to the U.S. federal courts.
“That’s the hope, but I don’t know if that’s gonna be the reality,” he said in December.
To register for the court hearing on April 4 at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Courthouse, click here.
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