Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

It has been less than a month since the Supreme Court gave its ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, a historic win for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Indian Country, and the fallout surrounding the decision continues to make waves.

Tribal citizens of Oklahoma have raised concerns about a possible rider attached to congressional legislation that would effectively upend the decision in McGirt.

Wednesday afternoon, Suzan Harjo, Hodulgee Muscogee and Cheyenne, posted an “open letter” to the National Congress of American Indians and “friends on Capitol Hill” about her worries about a scheme that would disestablish the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation.

“During this short time since the July 9th decision, the losing party, the State of Oklahoma, has managed to employ a non-party, Cherokee Nation, as an active participant in its scheme to undo the decision through a rider that Senators Inhofe and Lankford (both, R-OK) will try to attach to the pending pandemic relief bill, perhaps as early as Thursday, ”Harjo says in the post.

Thursday came and went with the U.S. Senate passing the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021, which normally has a number of amendments attached that pass along with it, with no such rider.

Although, that has not quelled speculation that the threat is completely gone.

When contacted by Indian Country Today, Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe’s office said it is false the senator is considering attaching any amendment or rider to the NDAA that would disestablish the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation.

“Completely untrue,” communications director Leacy Burke replied.

The National Congress of American Indians released a statement of its own Thursday, saying their core mission is to protect and support tribal sovereignty for every tribe. The organization will oppose any legislation that weakens or diminishes sovereignty and treaty rights.

Fawn Sharp, Quinault and president of the organization, said Congress needs to respect the decision and uphold promises to tribes made in treaties.

“Last week’s historic Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma was pivotal for its recognition of tribal sovereignty and the perpetual sanctity of treaties with tribal nations. As the decision states, ‘The most authoritative evidence of the Creek’s relationship to the land lies … in the treaties and statutes that promised the land to the Tribe in the first place,’” Sharp said. “Pursuant to this ruling, the policy of the federal government – specifically that of the U.S. Congress – ought to be to respect the promises made to the Creek, and to all of the other tribal nations across the country, who were promised permanent homes. In the words of Justice Gorsuch, ‘We hold the government to its word.’”

Along with the speculation of congressional legislation, much of the fallout is in reaction to an “agreement-in-principle” between the Attorney General of Oklahoma and the five tribes — Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, and Choctaw nations.

Shortly after the announcement, many tribal citizens took to social media to express their disappointment in the agreement initially released by the state attorney general.

(Related: Oklahoma tribal leaders clarify stance on jurisdiction deal)

By the end of last week two of the tribes, Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Seminole Nation, clarified their respective stances, saying the tribes were not in agreement with the proposal.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill said his tribe would pursue appropriate intergovernmental agreements and that many already exist.

“As the Chief, I very much believe that collaboration between federal, state, and tribal governments is critical and necessary following the Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt,” Hill said last week. “That collaboration, however, does not require congressional legislation.”

Seminole Nation Chief Greg Chilcoat expressed that his tribe had not been involved in discussions surrounding the “agreement-in-principle” and called for meaningful government-to-government consultation.

“Until such government-to-government discussions occur, and the Nation has an opportunity to fully conduct its own due diligence to any such proposed legislation, the Seminole Nation does not consent to being obligated to an agreement between the other four tribes and the state,” Chilcoat said.

The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center thanked the two leaders for taking a stand for sovereignty.

“For those of us who are citizens of one of the Five Tribes, Chief Hill and Chief Chilcoat’s leadership gives us hope that the historic victory we won in McGirt will not be surrendered,” said Cherrah Giles, NIWRC Board President and a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, adding, “and any legislation that Oklahoma proposes that seeks to diminish the authority of our Tribal Nations to protect our women from domestic abuse and violence will be firmly opposed.”

The organization, which works to end violence against Native women, said the “agreement-in-principle” or any congressional legislation would have serious consequences.

In a McGirt case webinar on Thursday, Jonodev Chaudhuri, Muscogee (Creek) Nation ambassador, said there is a lot of misinformation going around and the rhetoric and fear need to be toned down. Arizona State University’s Indian Legal Program hosted the webinar.

Chaudhuri added there is nothing that can’t be addressed by intergovernmental agreements.

“We will do whatever we can to defend this decision and we’re not going to give our sovereignty away, you’re going to have to take it from us,” Chaudhuri said.

Also on the webinar was Stacy Leeds, Cherokee, is Dean Emeritus and law professor at the University of Arkansas. She said she has heard the speculation of a possible rider by Congress but if it comes to fruition, all of Indian Country would unite in opposition to it.

“If it came to some sort of rider that sought to take boundaries away from any tribe, there would be a full on assault of all Indian Country, including all five tribes to shut that down,” Leeds said.

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Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports for the Washington Bureau. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

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