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‘We are a peaceful people’ | Man argues Native American heritage gives him right to trespass on private property

(Source: Associated Press)
Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 6:55 PM CDT
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HOLMES CO., Miss. (WLBT) - The state appeals court has denied a man’s right to trespass on private property, despite arguments that his Native American heritage and a 1790 treaty give him the right to do so.

The Mississippi Court of Appeals recently affirmed a lower court’s decision to find Curtis Henry Johnson in contempt of court after Johnson allegedly violated orders not to trespass on an adjoining owner’s land.

The appellate upheld the contempt charge, saying “this case had nothing to do with Indian tribal law but with Curtis’ blatant disregard of the laws and court orders of Mississippi.”

At the heart of the matter was whether Curtis had the right to access roughly 172 acres of land owned by Paul Benton.

Benton and Curtis had agreed in 2016 to divide up a roughly 285-acre tract into multiple sections, with Benton receiving about 60 percent of it, court records indicate.

Under an order from the Holmes County Chancery Court, the parties were each given “full access to their parcels with adequate public road frontage, interior travel roads and buffering,” and that “no defendant shall have any access to the licensed roadway at any time.”

Benton, though, told the court that Curtis had “repeatedly violated” the order, not only trespassing on his property but threatening him and his family.

Benton filed a petition to cite Curtis for criminal and civil contempt, citing an October 10, 2018 incident where Curtis had approached Benton in a “violent and aggressive manner.”

For his part, Curtis filed a motion to dismiss saying that he was “a Creek Indian and subject to tribal sovereign immunity, which protects him and his family from particular suits, especially land disputes.”

Curtis cited the Treaty with the Creeks 1790, and said that “any case brought against the Creek Indians must be argued in ‘tribal courts.’”

Court records then indicate that he began referring to himself as ‘chief of the Creek Indian Tribe East of the Mississippi’ and began signing his name to court documents with an ‘X.’”

According to a text of the treaty found on Yale University’s website, representatives of the Creek Nation of Indians signed the document with Xs.

As for the October incident, court records say Curtis denied being belligerent, telling the court that he left when asked and that “we are peaceful people.”

Despite Curtis’ claims, the chancery court found Curtis in contempt and ordered him to pay Benton $5,000 to cover legal fees. The chancery also found that Curtis has no proof that he was Native American, something the appellate notes.

“(Curtis) further contends the chancery court erred in failing to recognize his Indian status and improperly applied Mississippi law instead of federal Indian tribal law. Interestingly, it was not until (Benton) filed his petition for contempt in April 2019 that Curtis asserted that he is protected by tribal sovereign immunity.”

Affirming the lower court’s decision were Judges Donna Barnes, Virginia Carlton, Jack Wilson, Jim Greenlee, Deborah McDonald, Anthony Lawrence, David McCarty and Joel Smith.

Judges John Emfinger and Latrice Westbrooks did not participate.

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