Creek Freedmen fight to become full members

Wednesday, August 10th 2005, 3:43 pm
By: News On 6

Two men who want to join the Creek Nation are suing the tribe.

They've been turned down for membership, based on original tribal rolls they believe are incorrect.

News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan says Fred Johnson is not a Creek Indian, not officially. The US and tribal government don't count him as Creek, even though he comes from a Creek family.

Fred Johnson:"I do have Creek blood. I have the documents to show my grandfather was 3/4 Creek Indian."

But on the tribes records - his ancestors are listed as freedman, the name given to slaves owned by the tribe. It was a mistake, he says, and he wants to change it.

Fred Johnson: "So that's makes us, what we're fighting right now, we're freedman. I think that makes us as Creek as anybody because we were always told we were Creek citizens."

Johnson and Ron Graham, another descendent of freedman, are suing the tribe for rejecting them as members. If they win, it could have implications for thousands of people decended from freedman, who don't have the benefits of tribal membership.

Their lawyer is in the same boat. His great uncle was a tribal chief, but he is not eligible to be a member because his family was put on the freedman roll, instead of the regular tribal roll.

The lawsuit goes to trial at the end of the month. If he wins, 74 year old Fred Johnson will be a Creek Indian, officially, for the first time. He says it's a matter of pride for him, to validate what his mother always told him.