Black Creek Indians are demanding their Muscogee Creek Nation citizenship restored in a federal lawsuit.
The Muscogee Creek Indian Freedmen Band says the tribe’s 1979 update of its constitution goes against the Creek Treaty of 1866 by making only Creeks by blood eligible for citizenship, leaving out the black Creeks federally designated as freedmen and their descendants.
"The Creek Nation, relying upon this openly racist Dawes rolls, decided to segregate, strip and steal the heritage, culture and citizenship of those so-called Creek freedmen and their descendants," said attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons.
The '"freedmen" designation includes Creeks of African descent or mixed blood, whether they lived as free citizens or former slaves.
Muscogee Creek Nation Attorney General Kevin Dellinger said in a statement said the tribe has not been served with the lawsuit.
"When the Nation receives legal documents related, the Nation will respond accordingly," Dellinger said.
Solomon-Simmons said he and his 86-year-old grandmother, Johnnie Mae Austin, are among the freedmen's descendants.
"My grandmother tells me how she grew up speaking Creek, going to Creek events. She was a Creek. Our family has been Creek for as long as we’ve been around. We’re doing this for people like her," Solomon-Simmons said.
Attorney Kris Koepsel said the freedmen are demanding full citizenship to avoid being treated as second-class citizens.
"The right to vote, the right to hold office, the right to run for office, the right for all benefits that are granted to all equally situated Creek citizens. We can’t accept anything less," Koepsel said.
The federal lawsuit asks the U.S. Department of the Interior be barred from granting benefits to the tribe until the freedmen are granted citizenship.
Cherokee and Seminole freedmen have won citizenship in their tribes through similar actions.