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As attorneys for disenfranchised Black Creeks prepare for a trial to regain citizenship, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation judge on Thursday ordered the Tribe to turn over all documents related to the case by Friday, Feb. 17.
The discovery phase of the case ends on Feb. 24, and unless more delays continue, the first official trial for Black Creeks attempting to regain citizenship begins on April 4.
“We’re on the phone with the Creek Nation. We’re sending them emails, and we’re meeting with them. We’re saying let’s move this case along,” attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who represents two Black Creek plaintiffs, told The Black Wall Street Times as some have accused the Nation of intentionally delaying the proceedings.
“I think you see what’s happening, but we’re going to be ready for trial on April 4, and we expect it to move forward.”
After being removed from the Tribe in 1979, Black Creeks and their descendants have been rallying and fighting in the courts for years to force the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to honor the 1866 Treaty, which explicitly guarantees full citizenship to formerly enslaved Black citizens of the Tribe.
Thursday’s court hearing draws large crowd
On Thursday, attorney Solomon-Simmons and attorneys for the Tribe disputed how to move forward at a court hearing in front of Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Judge Denette Mouser.
“This is a surprisingly large crowd for a motion to compel,” Judge Mouser noted at the beginning of the hearing. The aisles were filled with Black Creeks, their supporters, and a clutch of University of Tulsa law students carefully watching the proceedings.
Specifically, attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who represents Black Creek plaintiffs Rhonda Grayson and Jeff Kennedy, is asking the Tribe to give an explanation for why it believes the 1866 Treaty is no longer valid regarding Black Creeks.
The Nation has used parts of the Treaty of 1866 to successfully protect its tribal sovereignty against the state of Oklahoma in the McGirt v. Oklahoma U.S. Supreme Court case. Meanwhile, for the last 43 years, it has ignored Article II of the same treaty by depriving Black Creeks of citizenship in the tribe of their ancestors.
“We were really hoping the judge would force the Creek Nation to give us documents and answers to questions that we are entitled to by law and that we need to win our trial,” attorney Solomon-Simmons told reporters at a press conference directly after the hearing.
“I’m happy that the court did tell the Creek Nation that they would have to produce some of those documents,” he added.
The environment at the courthouse was much different than in December, when Creek Lighthorsemen (tribal police) stood outside the building blocking elders from entering and banning any Black people from using the restrooms inside. Following The Black Wall Street Times’ media coverage criticizing their heavy-handed and discriminatory response, on Thursday only a few Lighthorsemen were in attendance, and no one was blocked from entering or exiting.
Black Creeks segregated on “Freedmen” Rolls
Thursday’s court hearing follows a previous hearing in December, in which the attorney general for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation argued that the new Constitution drawn in the 1970s supersedes the 1866 Treaty.
Roughly 43 years ago, the Tribe rewrote its Constitution, which forced tribal members to trace their lineage to the Dawes Roll in order to be considered full citizens. Notably, Black Creeks, free and enslaved, have been influential members for hundreds of years.
Yet when the United States forced tribes to establish allotments using the Dawes Roll, citizens with dark skin, whether formerly enslaved or Creek by blood, were placed on separate Freedmen Rolls. Today, supporters of the Black Creeks call the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Citizenship Board’s decision to exclude Freedmen descendants a new kind of “racial apartheid.”
“We tried to work with them,” attorney Solomon-Simmons told Judge Mouser on Thursday. “We did not hear anything back.”
For weeks, the Nation has delayed or denied requests from Solomon-Simmons to receive documents and depose persons central to his case. On Thursday, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General Geri Wisner agreed to turn over all documents and responses by the Feb. 17 deadline.
For Black Creeks, the 1866 Treaty is crystal clear
Vanessa Alexander is a Black Creek descendant who traveled to Okmulgee for the hearing. She told The Black Wall Street Times her family has been seeking citizenship for five years.
“We have our roll numbers, but we’re trying to get our citizenship. We’re giving them all the information they ask for, and then every time we come with information, they ask us for more, more and more,” Alexander said.
Despite attempts to deny her, Alexander said she keeps pushing because “it’s important to be recognized for who you are.”
Plaintiffs Rhonda Grayson and Jeff Kennedy echoed those concerns.
“I do believe that the whole process is a stall tactic. I believe they don’t want to make a ruling in this case,” Grayson told The Black Wall Street Times. She called the rewritten constitution of 1979 “illegal.”
“Treaties, as we all know, are supreme laws of the land. And that constitution should not overrule the Treaty of 1866,” Grayson added.
“For me, it just feels like we’re going through a dog and pony show,” Kennedy told The Black Wall Street Times. He believes the Muscogee (Creek Nation) is simply going through the motions of a fair legal process in order to “appease the Great Father,” a nickname given to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In exchange for its surrender after supporting the Confederate Army in the Civil War, the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Creek Nations signed treaties with the U.S. government, agreeing to give full citizenship rights and benefits to their free and formerly enslaved relatives.
Black Creeks have never been closer to regaining citizenship, as both sides prepare for a pending April 4 trial date.
“Where do we go from here? Only the judge knows,” Rhonda Grayson said.