No ruling in Black Creeks citizenship reinstatement hearing

OKMULGEE, Okla. — Black Creeks, known as Creek Freedmen, are fighting for treaty rights they say the Muscogee Creek Nation is violating.

The historic lawsuit hearing was Thursday morning.

Some Creek Freedmen are suing Muscogee Creek Nation’s Citizenship Board for the reinstatement of their citizenship after, what Creek Freedmen said, was taken from them 43 years ago.

During Thursday’s court hearing, there was much back-and-forth from each side. The Nation’s Attorney General Gerie Wisner objected during the plaintiff’s opening remarks, resulting in frustration from the plaintiff’s side. While Wisner argued the plaintiff’s lawyers did not give them paperwork for review.

“It was clear that Muscogee Creek Nation does not want people known as Creek Freedmen to be members of this tribe,” Rhonda Grayson, plaintiff and part of Creek Freedmen said.

Civil Rights attorney Damario Solomon Simmons, who’s representing Creek Freedmen and is also part of the Freedmen Band, said Muscogee Creek Nation is not upholding the Treaty of 1866 that states Creeks of African Descent will be Creek Citizens and allowed all benefits. He said in 1979, Creek Freedmen had their citizenships revoked.

While Wisner objected throughout Simmon’s oral argument saying her office didn’t receive some of his slides and documents, including plaintiff’s role numbers and denial citizenship letters. Simmons responded saying everything was submitted and asked why the citizenship board bring their documentation of role numbers and denial letters.

“At the end of the day, it’s their job to keep the administrative records,” he said.

Wisner said making a decision on citizenship for Freedmen is outside the scope of their court and against the Creek Constitution. Her office said Simmons is putting the burden of getting the denial letters on them when they should have it to present. Simmons said they submitted more than what was needed of documentation.

The judge did not make a ruling Thursday morning, but will have one between now and the set trial date in April.

Wisner agreed to speak with FOX23 after the court hearing, but decided to send a statement instead:

“Muscogee (Creek) Special Judge Denette Mouser heard arguments today in the case of Rhonda Grayson and Jeffrey Kennedy vs. the Citizenship Board of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

The Plaintiffs’ application for citizenship in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has previously been denied by the Citizenship Board because petitioners did not meet constitutionally imposed eligibility standards that require demonstrating Creek ancestry by blood. As allowed by Muscogee (Creek) law, petitioners appealed the Board’s decision for administrative review by the Muscogee (Creek) District Court.

The legal scope of today’s hearing was narrowly confined to consideration of the Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment requesting a finding that the Citizenship Board had not acted consistent with Muscogee (Creek) law and administrative procedures in denying petitioners’ application for citizenship.

After a nearly two-hour hearing that featured arguments from Plaintiffs’ attorneys and the Muscogee (Creek) Office of Attorney General, Judge Mouser stated that she would consider the arguments and issue a ruling at a later date.

“It is clear that the Citizenship Board followed the law in denying Plaintiffs’ applications for citizenship. The Muscogee (Creek) Constitution sets forth clear standards that make no provision for extending citizenship to non-Creek individuals,” said Geri Wisner, Attorney General for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Addressing arguments that failure to enroll non-Creek individuals as citizens is discriminatory, Attorney General Wisner said, “Efforts to make this case about race are legally unfounded and morally reprehensible. Race is not a consideration in the citizenship process. Petitioners for citizenship are not asked to identify their race, only to validate their lineage as a Muscogee (Creek) person. This case is about lineage-based citizenship, and any assertion otherwise is blatantly false.”

Pending the outcome of Judge Mouser’s ruling on the motion for the summary judgment, the trial is scheduled to begin on April 4, 2023.