Justice for Muscogee (Creek) Nation

The New York Times headline regarding the recognition that half of Oklahoma is still the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Since at least 1500 BCE (more than a thousand years before Socrates and Plato would be sitting around the agora) the Muscogee had an established society throughout the Southwest of the United States. They existed as a confederacy, with towns throughout their domain given autonomy. They lived like this for over 3,000 years.

In the 1800s Europeans came, put their flags in the ground, enslaved Africans, captured women who seemed a little troublesome and burned them at the stake, and razed the ecosystems to the ground. Having a civilized society next door, not perfect but certainly not as savage and mindless as these Europeans, wasn’t an option, so they told the people who had been living on North America for the last few millenia to kick rocks or else.

The Muscogee, who were divided into the Northern and Southern Creek people, lost their land piece by piece. Factions with the Muscogee were fighting amongst themselves in the early 1800s, as happened occasionally, and then British traders and the Spanish government got involved. They gave guns and supplies to the Muscogee, and fought alongside them. The United States teamed up on one side, with the Choctaw, Cherokee, and one faction of the Muscogee. The end result, somehow, was that Andrew Jackson forced the Muscogee Confederacy to give the United States 21,000,000 acres of land, all of Georgia and part of Alabama. The opposing Muscogee, who had fought with Jackson, argued against this, of course, but to no avail.

In 1832 Andrew Jackson, then president, enacted the Indian Removal Act, another lovely piece of legislation from the nation who brought you, “All men are created equal.” This legislation traded the First Nation’s territories at the time, humungous tracts of land covering much of the southwest for reservations west of the Mississippi. It was written as though it would be a voluntary exchange, but as it was a horrible deal for the Native Americans, they resisted. As a result the Cherokee, who fought alongside Jackson in the Creek War, were marched along the Trail of Tears, resulting in 4,000 deaths. The Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw were all forced, through coercion or war, to comply as well. The Muscogee (Creek) were forced off of their ancestral lands by 20,000 United States Soldiers.

Later that century in 1898, a mere 122 years ago, the United States passed the Dawes Act and the Curtis Act. These acts were meant to dismantle the governments of the “5 Tribes”, among many other nations, by making it the case that any decision made by the tribe dependent on the approval of the president of the United States. It demanded that the goverments be disbanded altogether by 1906. The reservation was eliminated, and instead the residents were given individual plots of land. It established public schools, which were notorious for being solely driven to destroy any attachment the students had to their Native American heritage. In short, after being forced from their own lands by the United States, the United States then tried to destroy these nations altogether.

it was a disaster, but ultimately the act failed. The members of these nations, and others affected, resisted. The Muscogee (Creek) maintained a chief throughout the redistribution of land, they recognized their own government even if the United States refused to do so. In 1936 the Indian Reorganization Act overturned the Dawes Act. In doing so, under a separate but related law, the treaties written alongside the Indian Removal Act, which established the original reservations in 1832, were restored. As such, the boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation were also restored.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court recognized this to be true. Judge Gorsuch wrote, “Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.” Amazing! The government promised a thing, and so the court said it had to do the thing! I am as shocked as you are. It is an amazing development. It was also great to hear from the opposition, Judge Roberts, who said, “The state’s ability to prosecute serious crimes will be hobbled and decades of past convictions could well be thrown out,” Well yeah! You never should have been in their making convictions in the first place!

It’s so easy for colonizers to forget that they are talking about nations. The Muscogee (Creek) is not a club, it is not a council, it is not a fraternity, it is a nation, with all the rights inherent to such an entity. Yesterday, after two hundred years of cruelty, violence, and subjugation, that nation was given a modicum of justice by the United States of America. May it be a small step in the direction of the U.S.A. becoming a more perfect nation itself, and may there be many more to come.

Bibliography

http://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/09/us/supreme-court-oklahoma-mcgirt-creek-nation.html

Culture/History

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creek_War

Indian Removal Act of 1830

https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CU006

The Curtis Act

https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/4610


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