Indian Country Today
The leaders of two Oklahoma tribes are clarifying their positions on proposed federal legislation governing civil and criminal jurisdiction following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found much of the eastern part of the state remains reservation land.
Republican Attorney General Mike Hunter announced the “agreement-in-principle” Thursday with tribal leaders of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations.
“With the court’s decision in hand, the Nations now announce the culmination of years of collaborative work among the Five Tribes and the Oklahoma Attorney General to develop a framework for clarifying respective jurisdictions and to ensure collaboration among Tribal, State, and Federal authorities in the interest of effective law enforcement and administration of justice across Tribal lands, as we have done together for generations,” the announcement said.
However, later Thursday, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill noted the agreement was in regard to the five Oklahoma tribes as a whole and not Muscogee (Creek) specifically.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Hill said he felt the need to clarify the tribe’s position and his view of the announcement.
“While the McGirt ruling was a historic and tremendous victory for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and all of Indian country, there exists the real possibility that outside interests opposed to any gains by Indian tribes will unilaterally pursue Federal legislation that could reverse what McGirt did or even possibly do far more damage to tribal sovereignty,” the statement said. “To that end, I believe it is in the best interest of our Nation to take a proactive approach and consider options that would maintain our Creek Reservation status but find creative ways to address jurisdictional conflicts between the Nation, State, and Federal government. MCN’s position is that the agreement Oklahoma’s Attorney General announced today is temporary and will be continuously monitored by MCN.”
Hill ended the statement by saying he is not interested in any agreement that would diminish the tribe’s sovereignty and remains confident the long-term outcome will be beneficial to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
He also wrote in a letter Friday to tribal citizens that collaboration between federal, state and tribal governments does not require congressional legislation.
Seminole Nation Chief Greg Chilcoat also released a statement Friday saying the tribe had not formally approved the agreement-in-principle and would not consider any such framework until meaningful government-to-government discussions with the state had occurred.
“To be clear, the Seminole Nation has not been involved with discussions regarding proposed legislation between the other four tribes and the State of Oklahoma,” Chilcoat said in the statement. “Furthermore, the Seminole Nation has not engaged in any such discussions with the State of Oklahoma, including with the Attorney General, to develop a framework for clarifying respective jurisdictions and to ensure collaboration among tribal, state and federal authorities regarding the administration of justice across Seminole Nation lands.”
The chiefs’ statements came after many tribal citizens took to social media to express their disapproval of the agreement.
An earlier Facebook post from Hill describing the deal had more than 200 comments, with many voicing concerns that federal legislation would undo what was considered a big Supreme Court win for the tribes and tribal sovereignty. A number of tribal citizens also were upset that the people en masse weren’t consulted.
But not everyone shared that sentiment.
Brenda Golden, Muscogee (Creek), an attorney practicing at her own law firm, said she felt like people were overreacting.
Golden pointed out that while the Supreme Court affirmed the tribe’s treaty, which is a big deal, it was a narrow holding in regard to crime and the Major Crimes Act. She said she interpreted the agreement as a reaffirmation of the McGirt ruling.
“So now that gives us leverage to start asserting more jurisdiction based on the holding that our treaty boundaries have not been de-established, but at this point it doesn't apply to anything except crime committed by an Indian on Indian land,” Golden said.
The announcement on the agreement noted any proposed legislation should recognize tribal sovereignty and the respective tribal boundaries outlined in treaties with the federal government.
Under the agreement, the state would have criminal jurisdiction over non-Native American offenders throughout the treaty territories, with some exceptions, while the tribes would have overlapping jurisdiction over most offenders who are tribal citizens. Federal prosecutors would still have jurisdiction under the Major Crimes Act over certain serious crimes committed by Native Americans.
The agreement clarifies that civil jurisdiction would remain largely unchanged.
"Although there are many more details to be ironed out in the near future, we believe this agreement regarding civil and criminal jurisdiction is the best path forward for protecting the public and promoting continued economic growth in Oklahoma," Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in the statement announcing the agreement.
Hunter said Friday Hill’s statement was a “stunning and regrettable reversal of commitments and assurances to me,” The Associated Press reported.
“Legislation is necessary to clarify the criminal and civil uncertainty created by the McGirt decision," Hunter said in a statement. “I am deeply disappointed in Chief Hill for withdrawing from this process. It is my hope that both the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Seminole Nation will recommit to our agreement on legislation that preserves public safety and promotes continued economic growth.”
Outside criminal and civil jurisdiction, other ramifications stemming from the McGirt decision remain unclear, such as any impact on oil and gas leases in Oklahoma.
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 - firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.