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Creek Freedmen citizenship applications face “4 to 6 week” review

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Creek Freedmen plaintiffs who won a lawsuit for citizenship rights this week traveled to the Muscogee Nation Citizenship office in Jenks on Friday to receive their citizen cards.

Plaintiffs Rhonda Grayson and Jeff Kennedy, along with Creek Freedmen descendant Sharon Lenzy Scott, traveled with civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons to obtain citizenship.

Instead, an employee for the citizenship office told them their applications will take four to six weeks to process. They’ll face a fresh review by the Citizenship Board in light of the historic court ruling.

creek freedmen citizenship
Muscogee Nation Lighthorse Police stand outside the Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizenship office in Jenks, Oklahoma, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023. Police ordered news outlets off the parking lot property. (Photo by The Black Wall Street Times)

“We still expect, by the end of October, that these three will be citizens of the Creek Nation,” attorney Solomon-Simmons told reporters outside the Citizenship office.

While they didn’t receive their ID cards as expected, the office did take new pictures and signatures from the Creek Freedmen plaintiffs.

Despite another delay in a case that was filed in 2020, the Creek Freedmen plaintiffs expressed joy at the idea of receiving their citizen cards in a matter of weeks.

“My grandmother passed away in 2011. She was 102 years of age. I wish she was here to see this day as well,” Rhonda Grayson said. “It means everything to us and we know that our ancestors they’re very proud of us. So, we are so pleased to be here today.”

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Muscogee Nation District Judge rules against Muscogee Nation AG

On Wednesday, Muscogee Nation District Judge Denette Mouser ruled the nation broke the law when it denied citizenship to Black Creek Freedmen descendants who had proved ancestral lineage.

“The Board limited their review of the Plaintiffs’ applications for citizenship to an examination only of the Creek By Blood Roll, and proven lineal descendants therefrom, in contradiction to the clear language of the Treaty of 1866,” Judge Mouser wrote.

Muscogee Nation Attorney General Geri Wisner argued tribal sovereignty gives them the authority to change citizenship requirements.

Judge Mouser disagreed, ruling the actions were contrary to the law.

She said both the nation’s constitution and the code of laws recognize the binding authority of the treaties.

Black Creek Freedmen and their supporters rallied outside the Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Court building in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, April 4, during the first day of an historic trial. Black Creeks are suing the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to regain citizenship into the Tribe of their ancestors. (Mike Creef / The Black Wall Street Times)

“The Board limited their review of the Plaintiffs’ applications for citizenship to an examination only of the Creek By Blood Roll, and proven lineal descendants therefrom, in contradiction to the clear language of the Treaty of 1866,” Judge Mouser wrote.

“The Court finds that the actions of the Board in denying Plaintiffs’ citizenship applications and appeals were contrary to law, specifically the Treaty of 1866 and its required inclusion of the Creek Freedmen and their lineal descendants within the citizenship of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Creek Freedmen citizenship within reach

In 1866, after the Muscogee Nation helped the Confederacy during the Civil War, it entered into a treaty with the United States known as the Treaty of 1866. It asserted the nation’s tribal sovereignty. It also required the nation to liberate its enslaved kin, and give full citizenship rights to they and their ancestors forever.

Yet in 1979 the Muscogee Nation added a “by-blood” citizenship requirement to their constitution, eliminating Freedmen.

Decades earlier the U.S. Government established the Dawes Roll to free up land for White settlement, forcing Indigenous people of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole) to sign their names to gain land allotments.

In a blatantly racist move, the U.S. placed all Creeks who even appeared to be of African descent on a segregated “Freedmen Roll” in the early 1900s. Therefore, the rewritten constitution effectively excluded all Freedmen from citizenship even if they could prove lineal ties to the Dawes Roll.

On Wednesday, an employee at the citizenship office told the plaintiffs their applications would be processed in “four to six weeks” due to a change in policy after the pandemic.

It’s unclear whether the Citizenship Board will follow the judge’s ruling for Creek Freedmen or listen to the Muscogee Nation AG Wisner and Principal Chief David Hill. They both released statements this week vowing to appeal the ruling. They rejected Black Creek Freedmen descendants as “non-Creek.”

Muscogee Nation refuses to reckon with racist past

“We respect the authority of our court but strongly disagree with Judge Mouser’s deeply flawed reasoning in this matter,” AG Wisner said.

Notably, Judge Mouser sanctioned AG Wisner back in June, accusing her of passing off a “veiled threat” to recall the judge if she doesn’t rule against Creek Freedmen and that she defied court orders to turn over documents in a timely manner.

“We will immediately be appealing this case to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Supreme Court. The MCN Constitution, which we are duty-bound to follow, makes no provision for citizenship for non-Creek individuals. We look forward to addressing this matter before our nation’s highest court,” AG Wisner said.

Meanwhile, Principal Chief David Hill gave a strong rebuke of the ruling as well.

“We strongly disagree with Judge Mouser’s conclusion in this case and have the utmost of confidence in our judicial system to ultimately see that justice is done and our sovereignty protected,” Chief Hall wrote Thursday on Facebook.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill (Facebook)

“The MCN Attorney General is diligently working on an appeal of this ruling with the MCN Supreme Court and requesting a stay of the Court’s order while the appeal is pending.”

Creek Freedmen say granting citizenship protects entire nation

Notably, during the trial attorney Solomon-Simmons argued that ignoring one part of the treaty weakens tribal sovereignty altogether.

Judge Mouser appeared to agree, noting that the McGirt V. Oklahoma Supreme Court case proved that the the Treaty of 1866 remains supreme law of the land.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in McGirt unequivocally held that there had not been an abrogation of the Treaty and upheld the Nation’s sovereignty and rights found within the Treaty of 1866,” Judge Mouser wrote.

Article I of the treaty outlines tribal sovereignty, and Article II outlines rights for Creek Freedmen. Muscogee Nation AG Wisner told the Citizenship Board to ignore Article II when processing applications.

“We don’t go by the Treaty of 1866,” Citizenship Board member Leann Nicks testified during the April trial. “We don’t consider this law.”

Citizenship Board President Nathan Wilson testified under oath that he  “reached out to the AG’s office for clarification” on the treaty and was told to ignore it when processing Creek Freedmen applications.

Previous Creek Freedmen lawsuits made it to the Muscogee Nation Supreme Court but were dismissed on procedural grounds. This ruling sets a precedent for regarding the Treaty of 1866 as the supreme law overseeing the citizenship application process.

As Creek Freedmen descendants wait for citizenship and the Muscogee Nation rushes to appeal, it’s unclear which side will ultimately prevail.

However, Judge Mouser’s words break through the noise like a knife cutting through butter.

“The decisions of the Board in denying the citizenship applications of the Plaintiffs are herby reversed and remanded to Citizenship Board of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation for reconsideration of the Plaintiffs’ applications for citizenship in accordance with the clear language of Article II of the Treaty of 1866…”

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