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Creek Freedmen descendants who recently won their lawsuit against the Muscogee (Creek) Nation are waiting for their citizenship to be granted, but one part of the case that hasn’t gotten much attention is coming to light.
On July 3rd, two months after the historic April trial, Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Judge Denette Mouser sanctioned Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General Geri Wisner for defying a court order to turn over documents on time.
Judge Mouser also suggested AG Wisner made “veiled threats” against her in an attempt to influence her ruling.
Civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons represents the Creek Freedmen plaintiffs. During the discovery phase of the trial in February, he accused Muscogee Nation AG Wisner of delaying proceedings. Solomon-Simmons filed a motion to compel the tribal nation to turn over documents.
“We’re on the phone with the Creek Nation. We’re sending them emails, and we’re meeting with them,” attorney Solomon-Simmons told The Black Wall Street Times on Feb. 10. “We’re saying let’s move this case along.”
The deadline for discovery was supposed to be Feb. 24.
During a hearing in December, Judge Mouser had given both sides a deadline to submit documents for their arguments. However, AG Wisner repeatedly missed deadlines.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation AG defied court order
Throughout two days of the trial beginning on April 4, Muscogee (Creek) Nation AG Wisner defended the Citizenship Board. The Board denied citizenship to the plaintiffs, despite them being able to trace their lineage to the Dawes Roll.
During the trial, AG Wisner appeared flustered when questioned by the Judge about the authority of the 1866 Treaty. Her office repeatedly missed deadlines to turn over documents after promising to do so.
In the order sanctioning AG Wisner, Judge Mouser said the attorney general failed to comply with a March 30 court order.
“Even then, Defendant waited nearly two full months (until just days before the scheduled hearing) to act on or at minimum acknowledge Plaintiffs’ motion, and yet still failed to demonstrate any genuine defense of its inaction and non-compliance,” Judge Mouser ruled.
In a stinging rebuke, Judge Mouser said Muscogee (Creek) Nation AG Wisner looked for any excuse for failure to comply with her order.
AG Wisner tried to “intimidate” Judge
Notably, Judge Mouser also accused AG Wisner of making “veiled threats” to recall her from the bench.
On June 30, AG Wisner handed Judge Mouser an order from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Supreme Court detailing the process of removing a judge from the bench. AG Wisner gave no explanation as to why she handed the judge that order.
“Thus, the Court’s only inference can be that the true motive of such action was at worst a veiled threat of removal from the bench, or at best an attempt to intimidate the Court prior to its ruling on Plaintiffs’ motion and/or prior to rendering final judgement,” Judge Mouser stated in her sanction order.
Ultimately, both Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General Geri Wisner and Principal Chief David Hill blasted the ruling and vowed to appeal it.
In the meantime, Creek Freedmen plaintiffs Rhonda Grayson and Jeff Kennedy traveled to the citizenship office in Jenks, Oklahoma on Friday to obtain their I.D. cards.
Employees at the office said it would take a “four to six week” review by the Citizenship Board. However, they didn’t say when or whether the Board would abide by Judge Mouser’s ruling.
AG Wisner is seeking a stay of the ruling to prevent the plaintiffs from obtaining citizenship while the appeal makes its way to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Supreme Court.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Judge ruled in favor of Freedmen
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation violated the treaty of 1866 when it denied citizenship to Freedmen plaintiffs Rhonda Grayson and Jeff Kennedy, Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Judge Denette Mouser ruled on Wednesday, Sept 27.
“Judgement is hereby rendered for Plaintiffs. The decision of the board in denying citizenship applications of the Plaintiffs are hereby REVERSED and REMANDED to the Citizenship Board of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation for reconsideration of the Plaintiffs’ application for citizenship in accordance with the clear language of Article II of the Treaty of 1866…” Judge Mouser ruled.
The historic ruling sets a precedent, confirming that the treaty, which granted citizenship to Creeks of African descent who were formerly enslaved and their descendants, remains the supreme law of the land.
(Dis)Honoring the treaty
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General Geri Wisner represented the Citizenship Board on the defense. She argued tribal sovereignty gives the Nation the right to alter its citizenship requirements.
When the U.S. government forced tribal nations to divide up their land into parcels, it placed Muscogee citizens on the Dawes Roll. Yet in a blatantly racist move, anyone of African descent–whether Creek by blood, by marriage or by treaty–was placed on a segregated Freedmen Roll.
The government did the same for the other four so-called Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole). Notably, the Dawes Commission considered both the By Blood Rolls and the Freedmen Rolls as part of the official, “final rolls” for each tribal nation.
In 1979, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation changed its constitution, expelling Creek Freedmen descendants who were on the Freedmen Roll.
“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 in her ruling.
The judge noted that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation successfully used Article 1 of the 1866 Treaty to assert its sovereignty and jurisdiction in the 2020 McGirt v. Oklahoma case. Meanwhile, the tribal nation has for over 40 years ignored Article II of the same treaty when it comes to Freedmen descendants.
Some fear that the tribal nation’s animosity toward Creek Freedmen could lead to a breakdown of the entire treaty. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs continue to hope that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation will honor the treaty.
“It’s important to me because it’s my birthright,” plaintiff Rhonda Grayson said.
Timeline of Events (Pre-Trial)
Plaintiffs say they’re fighting for their ancestors. They 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 on procedural grounds.
- 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 during a motion to compel. 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.
- March 30, 2023: Muscogee (Creek) Nation AG Wisner defies a second court order to turn over documents before deadline.
Timeline of Events: (Trial and Post-Trial)
- April 4, 2023: Day 1 of Trial begins for Black Creeks seeking reinstatement into the tribal nation of their ancestors. Plaintiff Rhonda Grayson calls citizenship her “birthright.” Plaintiffs call expert witness: University of Oklahoma law professor Carla Pratt, the esteemed Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Chair in Civil Rights, Race, and Justice in the Law. Pratt says 1866 Treaty is supreme law. MCN AG Wisner cross-examines plaintiffs, claiming they’re not Creek because their ancestors are on the Freedmen Roll and not the By Blood Roll.
- April 5, 2023: Day 2 of Trial: Civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons cross-examines Citizenship Board members, who admit the AG told them to ignore the treaty.
- June 30, 2023: Muscogee (Creek) Nation AG Wisner hands judge a court ruling about recalling judges.
- July 3, 2023: Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Judge Denette Mouser sanctions Muscogee (Creek) Nation AG Wisner for defying multiple court orders.
- September 27, 2023: Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Judge Denette Mouser rules in favor of Creek Freedmen plaintiffs, reversing the Citizenship Board’s denial of their citizenship and ordering them to reconsider it in line with the treaty.
- September 28, 2023: Muscogee (Creek) Nation AG Wisner and Principal Chief David Hill vow to fight against ruling, AG Wisner calls Judge Mouser’s ruling “deeply flawed.”
- September 29, 2023: Creek Freedmen travel to citizenship office in Jenks to obtain I.D. Cards. Employees take new pictures and signatures for them, but they say the Citizenship Board will take “four to six weeks” to review.
Follow the Black Wall Street Times for updates.