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After nearly two hours of oral arguments in a packed courtroom, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation judge delays ruling on a lawsuit demanding Black Creeks be reinstated into the tribe of their ancestors with full citizenship.

Rhonda Grayson and Jeff Kennedy, the two plaintiffs who were denied citizenship despite having documented proof of their ancestry, listened intently as the judge gave her ruling.

“I will make a ruling on this but not today,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Judge Denette Mouser said on Thursday.

Heading to Okmulgee to cover a court hearing in which Black Creek descendants have sued the @MuscogeeNation for violating the 1866 Treaty by excluding them from the tribe.

— Deon Devon Osborne (@indepthwithDeon) December 1, 2022

As one of Five Tribes in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) who enslaved people of African descent, the Muscogee Creek Nation (MCN) signed a treaty in 1866 with the U.S. government. The treaty required the tribe to give full citizenship rights to their melanin-rich relatives, both free and enslaved Black Creeks, and their descendants.

Yet in 1979, the MCN rewrote its constitution, effectively eliminating Black Creeks and their descendants from being recognized as tribal members. Today, those descendants are considered Creek Freedmen without any rights or benefits, and Thursday’s court hearing represented a push to eliminate the racial apartheid. 

Judge delays ruling on Black Creeks citizenship
Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons speaks to reporters outside the Muscogee Creek Nation court building after a judge delayed ruling on a lawsuit that demands Black Creek descendants be reinstated into the tribe of their ancestors. (Mike Creef / The Black Wall Street Times)

For the last four decades, Black Creeks have fought for their rights. Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons is a Black Creek descendant whose fourth great-grandfather helped negotiate the 1866 treaty. He argued on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“We were hoping that the discrimination would stop today with this hearing,” attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons told The Black Wall Street Times inside the courtroom shortly after the ruling. “Our judge said she’s not going to make that determination today. She’s going to take everything we studied under advisement, and she will issue a ruling.”

Muscogee Creek Nation law enforcement force elderly Black Creeks to wait outside

While the ruling has been delayed, the reaction from Muscogee Creek Nation’s Lighthorse tribal officers to the Black Creeks and supporters entering the court building on Thursday illustrated the immense racial discrimination Creek Freedmen face.

As dozens of Black Creeks and supporters arrived, some via bus and some via plane, a group of tribal law enforcement officers attempted to bar them from entering the building. The Lighthorse officers forced many elders to wait outside in the 40-degree weather.  Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons described it as being treated like terrorists.

While many were told beforehand that there would be limited seating inside the courtroom, no one expected to be barred from entering the building.

Ahead of the court hearing. @MuscogeeNation lighthouse police are trying to deny Black Creek descendants entry into the court hearing.

— Deon Devon Osborne (@indepthwithDeon) December 1, 2022

The @MuscogeeNation is forcing elderly Black Creek descendants to stand outside in 40 degree weather. Some folks traveled from across the nation to be here.

— Deon Devon Osborne (@indepthwithDeon) December 1, 2022

While the officers cited “covid protocols”, The Black Wall Street Times observed non-Black individuals being allowed in uninterrupted.

“They’ve never done this before,” Ron Graham, a Black Creek descendant and member of the Muscogee Creek Freedmen Indian Band told The Black Wall Street Times.

“They kicked us out of the tribe in 1979 and now they’re kicking us out of the courtroom,” added Jeff Kennedy, a Black Creek descendant and one of two plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“They kicked us out of the tribe in 1979 and now they’re kicking us out of the courtroom,” said Jeff Kennedy, a Black Creek descendant and plaintiff in the lawsuit.

— Deon Devon Osborne (@indepthwithDeon) December 1, 2022

Justice delayed in Black Creek citizenship court case

Attorney Solomon-Simmons had already scheduled a trial date for April 3, 2023. He said he expects the judge’s ruling to come sometime before that date.

The Muscogee Creek Nation Citizenship Board is a defendant in the case after repeatedly denying citizenship for Black Creeks. The MCN Attorney General Geri Wisner argued on their behalf, stating that the Constitution should be upheld and that it should continue to deny Freedmen citizenship.

The judge’s decision to delay her ruling comes after an action-packed week. The Justice for Black Creeks Coalition sought to energize supporters ahead of the court hearing.

On Wednesday, the coalition held a press conference inside Tulsa’s Greenwood Cultural Center, and it held a rally that evening.

Treaty of 1866 describes citizenship rights for Black Creeks and descendants

At one point during the court hearing, attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons displayed a slide presentation depicting the MCN role in supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War. Outrage immediately erupted as the MCN attorney general objected, arguing that the depiction of the tribe was “inflammatory.” Yet she didn’t appear to have that same reaction to the lighthorsemen denying Black Creeks access to the court building.

After the hearing, Rhonda Grayson, the other plaintiff in the case,  called out the hypocrisy of the MCN abiding by some parts of the treaty while ignoring other parts.

“And our question is, how can you skip over Article II, go to Article III and say it’s good law. But then when it’s applicable to the Freedmen…we just avoid that,” Grayson told reporters.

Notably, the Muscogee Creek Nation’s sovereignty as an independent nation was affirmed in 2020 with the McGirt v. Oklahoma Supreme Court case.

The ruling hinged on Article III of the 1866 Treaty. Meanwhile, the Muscogee Creek Nation continues to ignore Article II of that treaty, which specifies the rights of Black Creeks and their descendants. Black Creeks, both enslaved and free, contributed greatly to the tribe as lawyers, medicine men, legislators and even a chief. 

According to Article II of the 1866 Treaty with the Creeks:

 “Persons of African descent…shall have and enjoy all the rights and privileges of native citizens, including an equal interest in the soil and national funds, and the laws of the said nation shall be equally binding upon and give equal protection to all such persons, and all others, of whatsoever race or color, who may be adopted as citizens or members of said tribe.”

World waits for judge’s ruling ahead of April trial date

Moving forward, attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons said he believes the judge will make a fair and just decision. If the case goes to trial, Solomon-Simmons said he’s ready to gather depositions from the MCN Chief, council president and anyone else he deems necessary.

Ultimately, 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.”

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...