Freedmen citizenship lawsuit against Oklahoma tribe rejected
TULSA (AP) – A lawsuit from the descendants of black slaves who were once owned by citizens of the Muscogee Creek Nation and who are seeking citizenship in the tribe has been dismissed, with a federal judge ruling that they should go through the tribe’s legal process first.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington, D.C., dismissed the Muscogee Creek Freedmen descendants’ lawsuit in May seeking citizenship in the Creek Nation, the Tulsa World reported. The Okmulgee-based tribe is the fourth largest in the country, with over 86,000 enrolled citizens.
The descendants filed a lawsuit last July against the Creek Nation and the U.S. Department of the Interior seeking full tribal citizenship and to have the tribe’s constitution declared in violation of the Treaty of 1866, which guaranteed tribal citizenship to the tribe’s freed slaves and their descendants, as well as black Creeks.
In 1979, the department approved a law in the tribe’s constitution that restricts citizenship eligibility to those with proof of Creek lineage.
Kollar-Kotelly stated in her decision that the descendants’ court filings did not include specific accusations or records that showed they had applied for tribal citizenship and were denied within the last decade.
“Failed attempts to obtain a grant of citizenship from the MCN Citizenship Board as well as refusals by the tribal courts to reconsider adverse determinations may show that tribal exhaustion may be futile,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote. “But, plaintiffs have failed to produce sufficient evidence that a remedy through the tribal process would be illusory in this case.”
Kollar-Kotelly also granted Creek Nation Principal Chief James Floyd’s motion to dismiss the case without prejudice. As a result, the descendants could re-file their suit in federal court if the tribe rejects their citizenship requests and after they go through the appeals process in the Creek Nation judicial system.
Damario Solomon-Simmons, a Tulsa attorney representing the descendants, said the group hasn’t made a decision on whether to appeal, submit extra documentation and ask for reconsideration or adhere to Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling and pursue citizenship through the Creek Nation’s citizenship board and court system.
The Cherokee Nation faced a similar lawsuit that was resolved in 2017 after a federal court ruled that the Cherokee Freedmen have a right to tribal citizenship.