A ballot question to constitutionally protect the independence of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s tribal media agency was approved Sept. 18 by more than three-fourths of voters, according to unofficial election results.
Passed by 76.25% of the vote, the constitutional amendment requires the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to provide Mvskoke Media day-to-day operational funding and allow the outlet to remain editorially independent of tribal government.
Angel Ellis, director of Mvskoke Media, said voters made a clear mandate.
“They want a transparent government, they value the role journalism plays in the exercise of sovereignty, and they wanted it enshrined in their highest doctrines of law,” Ellis told NonDoc.
To be ratified in the tribe’s constitution, the ballot question required approval from two-thirds of voters.
“Also, this time around, any other possible challenges to this election and the law once formally certified by the Election Board will run up directly against the citizens’ will, which was overwhelming at over three-fourths approval next to the two-thirds needed,” said former Mvskoke Media Manager Sterling Cosper, now the membership manager of the Native American Journalists Association. “To me, this really reflects the spirit of the entire effort.”
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation will be the first tribe to spell out press protections constitutionally if the results are certified, according to the Tulsa World. The Osage and Cherokee nations in Oklahoma are among a handful of other Indigenous tribes with independent press statutes in place nationwide.
Cosper, who also serves as Oklahoma Pro Chapter Society of Professional Journalists president, said this gives Muscogee (Creek) citizens the right to a direct decision on an issue that has gone back and forth since the initial codification of free press in 2015. That was repealed in late 2018 in an effort largely led by its initial advocates in the tribal government.
In July 2020, a 15-0 vote by the National Council statutorily restored Mvskoke Media’s press freedoms.
Ellis told VNN they were censored within 24 hours of the historic repeal.
“The Muscogee Creek Nation shall have an Independent Press that shall be free from political interest or undue influences, harassment, censorship, control or restrictions from any department of the government of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in order to provide unbiased news and reports objectively to the Muscogee (Creek) citizens,” according to the new amendment.
“I sincerely hope the work done in our community catches on in every one of the Indigenous nations in this country and that we grab hold of roots by writing our own stories,” Ellis told NonDoc.
Free press is intended to give citizens information to maintain constant oversight of their officials as the real tribal bosses, and they showed overwhelming support for this, Cosper said.
“We are so excited and relieved that the department has really been formally recognized as the Fourth Estate by moving up to the highest legal status possible as a tribal institution,” Cosper said.
“As a former department leader, it warms my heart to know that my colleagues, friends and future staff will not have to worry nearly as much about threats from the government for doing the right thing by the people by providing unfiltered information about tribal affairs in alignment with universally accepted journalistic standards.”
(Note: Mvskoke Media, NAJA, NonDoc, the Tulsa World and VNN are collaborators in the Oklahoma Media Center. The statewide collaborative’s shared topic in 2021, Promised Land, is documenting ramifications of the Supreme Court’s landmark McGirt v Oklahoma ruling last year.)