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The ruling has significant implications and may pave the way for Black Creek Freedmen to finally gain full citizenship within the tribe.

Muscogee Nation judge rules in favor of citizenship for slave descendants known as freedmen

A judge for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma has ruled in favor of two descendants of Black slaves once owned by tribal members

OKLAHOMA CITY — A judge for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma ruled in favor of citizenship for two descendants of Black slaves once owned by tribal members, potentially paving the way for hundreds of other descendants known as freedmen.

District Judge Denette Mouser, based in the tribe’s headquarters in Okmulgee, ruled late Wednesday in favor of two Black Muscogee Nation freedmen, Rhonda Grayson and Jeff Kennedy, who had sued the tribe’s citizenship board for denying their applications.

Mouser reversed the board’s decision and ordered it to reconsider the applications in accordance with the tribe’s Treaty of 1866, which provides that descendants of those listed on the Creek Freedmen Roll are eligible for tribal citizenship.

Freedman citizenship has been a difficult issue for tribes as the U.S. reckons with its history of racism. The Cherokee Nation has granted full citizenship to its freedmen, while other tribes, like the Muscogee Nation, have argued that sovereignty allows tribes to make their own decisions about who qualifies for citizenship.

Muscogee Nation Attorney General Geri Wisner said in a statement that the tribe plans to immediately appeal the ruling to the Muscogee Nation’s Supreme Court. “We respect the authority of our court but strongly disagree with Judge Mouser’s deeply flawed reasoning in this matter,” Wisner said. “The MCN Constitution, which we are duty-bound to follow, makes no provisions for citizenship for non-Creek individuals. We look forward to addressing this matter before our Nation’s highest court.”

Tribal officials declined to comment further.

The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations were referred to historically as the Five Civilized Tribes, or Five Tribes, by European settlers because they often assimilated into the settlers’ culture, adopting their style of dress and religion, and even owning slaves. Each tribe also has a unique history with freedmen, whose rights were ultimately spelled out in separate treaties with the U.S.

Mouser pointed out in her decision that slavery within the tribe did not always look like slavery in the South and that slaves were often adopted into the owner’s clan, where they participated in cultural ceremonies and spoke the tribal language.

“The families later known as Creek Freedmen likewise walked the Trail of Tears alongside the tribal clans and fought to protect the new homeland upon arrival in Indian Territory,” Mouser wrote. Meeting with Congresswoman The Hon. Maxine Waters Select Provisions of the 1866 Reconstruction Treaties between the United States and Oklahoma Tribes

Select Provisions of the 1866 Reconstruction Treaties between the United States and Oklahoma Tribes

The Creeks hereby covenant and agree that henceforth neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted in accordance with laws applicable to all members of said tribe, shall ever exist in said nation; and inasmuch as there are among the Creeks many persons of African descent, who have no interest in the soil, it is stipulated that hereafter these persons lawfully residing in said Creek country under their laws and usages, or who have been thus residing in said country, and may return within one year from the ratification of this treaty, and their descendants and such others of the same race as may be permitted by the laws of the said nation to settle within the limits of the jurisdiction of the Creek Nation as citizens [thereof,] 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. "

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