Indian Country Today
Freedom of the press, it’s guaranteed in the first amendment of the United States Constitution.
However, many tribal nations across the country with tribal newspapers do not have such language codified in constitutions of their own.
That recently changed for the Muscogee Nation.
In its most recent election held on Sept. 18, Muscogee citizens overwhelmingly voted to amend the tribe’s constitution to include such protections and mandated tribal funding for its news enterprise, Mvskoke Media.
Needing two-thirds approval, the referendum was passed with 1,914 (76.25 percent) voting yes to 596 (23.75 percent) voting no, according to the unofficial results on the tribe’s website.
It had been a long and arduous road for the tribe to get to this point.
In 2015, the tribe passed the “Free Press Act,” establishing independent media. It would last three years before the National Council, during an emergency meeting, voted 7 to 6 to repeal the law.
“This is a chilling attack on press freedom by the National Council,” then president of the Native American Journalists Association Tristan Ahtone, Kiowa, told the Tulsa World.
In July 2020, the National Council unanimously restored the press freedoms by passing the “Independent Muscogee (Creek) Press Act,” which was viewed as a positive step. The Sept. 18 vote goes further as it codifies press protections and funding in the constitution.
Furthermore, any attempt to overturn or challenge the amendment would have to be put to a vote to Muscogee citizens.
After such a long process, director of Mvskoke Media Angel Ellis, Muscogee, said it was incredible to see the amendment passed and described it as “wildly empowering.”
“We saw that our people, our citizens of our tribe, come to the rescue in a big, big way,” Ellis said. “They kind of liberated that fourth pillar of their democracy because they see that value that it brought to their government and to the tribe and to their daily lives really and so it's just been a huge, a huge and an incredible journey for press freedom in Indian Country.”
Sterling Cosper, Muscogee, is a former editor of Mvskoke Nation news and current membership manager of the Native American Journalists Association. In an emailed statement to Indian Country Today, he praised his fellow tribal citizens and said a free press is critical to hold those in positions of power accountable.
“Free press is intended to give citizens information, so they maintain constant oversight of their officials as the real bosses of the tribe and they showed overwhelmingly support for this,” Cosper wrote. “I couldn’t be more proud of our tribe, my fellow citizens and former colleagues at Mvskoke Media as well as everyone in the journalism community who supported or covered this issue.”
In another email to Indian Country Today, fellow Muscogee citizen and NAJA executive director Rebecca Landsberry-Baker expressed her excitement at the news.
“We’re thrilled about the news as citizens and as NAJA staff who have been pushing for this protection since it was repealed in 2018,” she said.
In the week since the amendment’s passage, Ellis said that the work environment in the office has been amazing. Mvskoke Media is making some changes to the brand and will eventually roll out a new masthead in celebration.
She went on to say that people have been, “walking around with smiles on their faces like they've never been smiling before,” and outside news organizations have contacted them; which she says shows the impact it has on the broader conversation of free press and tribal sovereignty.
“The Muscogee (Creek) citizens just went out and checked yes on a box saying that they want a politically unhindered news outlet because it is a value to their sovereign nation and that's just incredible to me and my whole staff is just wildly proud right now.”