The Divided Identity of the Muscogee Freedmen

OklahomaHuman InterestPoliticsIndigenous
Collaborator: Whitney Pingleton
Published: 03/26/2024, 6:42 AM

By Whitney Pingleton

(MUSCOGEE NATION) The Muscogee (Creek) people's cultural identity is a fascinating blend of diverse tribes that merged to form a powerful confederacy. This confederacy once dominated the southeastern region, stretching across Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, encompassing vast river valleys and lands.

After European contact, colonists often portrayed the Muscogee Confederacy as a complex mix of ethnicities, languages, and refugee tribes. Despite this confusion, colonists frequently referenced various unions within the Muscogee confederacy, including the Yuchi, Hitchitee, Alabama, Quassarte, and even runaway slaves.

In 1887, the Dawes Act, spearheaded by Senator Henry Dawes, aimed to establish tribal citizenship for the Five Tribes of Oklahoma, including the Muscogee. The Dawes Commission, tasked with this effort, continued to accept applications until 1907, with a few as late as 1914. 

This led to the creation of the ‘Final Rolls of the Citizens and the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory.’ Next, fast forward to 1975, when the Muscogee Nation proposed a new constitution to the Department of the Interior via its National Council. This constitution, adopted in 1979, replaced the 1867 constitution and sparked controversy by proposing the exclusion of Freedmen descendants as members, along with stripping them of their legal citizenship rights that Freedmen descendants say were granted to them in the tribe's Treaty of 1866.

Now, Freedmen descendants are contesting the long-standing constitution of the Muscogee Nation, which not only mandates that applicants have an ancestor listed on the ‘Creek Roll’ (by blood) but also requires them to sign an affidavit affirming they are not enrolled in another tribe to prevent dual enrollment. 

Recently, a Muscogee Nation judge ruled in favor of granting citizenship to two Black Muscogee Freedmen descendants in the tribe's federal court. However, the Muscogee Nation's attorney general plans to appeal this decision to the tribe's supreme court. 

Throughout the ongoing debate surrounding the citizenship status and legal rights of Muscogee Freedmen, there have been concerns regarding potential dual political status for individuals descended from both Muscogee Freedmen and Muscogee by blood. While socially, descendants may identify with both communities, the legality of dual recognition remains unclear.

The implications of this issue are profound. If descendants opt to renounce their Muscogee (by blood) enrollment to honor their Muscogee Freedmen citizenship, they would be forced to choose one identity over the other to remain compliant. This raises questions about the consequences of such choices and their impact on a sense of belonging and legal standing within the Muscogee Nation.

For instance, those with Freedmen citizenship lack the protection offered by Federal Laws concerning Indians by blood–such as the Indian Child Welfare Act, the McGirt Ruling, voting rights, and eligibility for tribal office positions. These circumstances bring a central concern–what lies ahead for the identity and rights of the Muscogee Freedmen?


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