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Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

In the year-plus since the Supreme Court’s ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, the state of Oklahoma and tribes have approached challenges stemming from the decision in different manners.

Most recently, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, said McGirt is the most pressing issue facing the state today.

“I’ve said from the beginning, that ruling creates uncertainty in our state,” Stitt said during a speech in Tulsa on Aug. 26. “It threatens Oklahoma sovereignty and creates a public safety nightmare for victims and law enforcement.” The governor “stands by his speech,” Stitt’s office told Indian Country Today.

However, tribes say the governor is painting a false narrative of chaos in the state and that he has been unwilling to work with tribes.

Through a statement on Twitter, the Muscogee Nation said they have an open invitation to Stitt to partner with the tribe to address criminal jurisdiction issues stemming from McGirt but that he has refused.

“The SCOTUS decision gives tribes and the state new ways to work together for everyone in Oklahoma,” the tribe tweeted. “The Governor’s goal to return to the wrong and unlawful past just because generations of Oklahomans have gotten used to it is deeply flawed and extraordinarily divisive.”

A day before Stitt’s speech, Jimcy McGirt, for whom the case is named after, was sentenced in federal court to three life sentences for his crimes. The Muscogee Nation cited the adjudication as “a prime example of an orderly process that preserves public safety and delivers justice in the lawful venue.”

(Related: New Oklahoma AG: 'We need to limit McGirt')

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. also took issue with the governor’s viewpoint. Hoskin said that while there have been changes and challenges in criminal jurisdiction, they are only unmanageable if the state and tribes don’t work together.

“Gov. Stitt has set down a course where he doesn't want to work with the tribes,” Hoskin said in an interview on Indian Country Todays newscast. “We're working every day though, to implement McGirt, to meet our obligations under McGirt and really build the best criminal justice system in the country. That's what we're trying to do at the Cherokee Nation, it’d be good if the governor would join us in that effort.”

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One interesting dynamic is that Stitt himself is a Cherokee citizen but since he’s taken office, the governor has been at odds with tribes. First, he wanted to blow up and renegotiate gaming compacts with tribes in the state and now is seeking to overturn the McGirt decision.

Hoskin said he’ll never fully understand why Stitt is anti-tribe and didn’t mince his words on the governor’s actions related to McGirt. He said Stitt “ lacks any depth of understanding of tribal sovereignty,” and those that do, Native or non-Native, have been celebrating the McGirt decision.

“The fact is, he's the most anti-tribal sovereignty Governor we've had in Oklahoma in generations and he's proving it by trying to go back to the Supreme Court to have what was a sound decision, on whether the United States ought to be good to its word,” Hoskin said. “He's trying to get that overturned.”

The Cherokee Nation alone has at least 70 cross-deputization agreements with jurisdictions across its reservation. These cooperative agreements allow for local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement entities to more effectively combat crime in Indian Country and nearby communities. The Muscogee Nation has 62 cross-deputization agreements in place as of Aug. 24 which is an increase from the 30 in July 2020, said the tribe’s press secretary Jason Salsman in an interview with NonDoc.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill said that there is no day where her office isn’t in communication with all levels of state law enforcement, from the district attorneys to small-town local police chiefs.

“Those everyday conversations show an increasing amount of cooperation, increasing capacity on the ground and that's why it's always disheartening when you see a news story which has this ‘tribes and the state can't work together narrative,’ because that's not my day to day experience,” she said. “My day to day experience is the state and the tribes work together really well.”

The Supreme Court has yet to take up review of any writ of certiorari submitted by the state that would overturn McGirt and tribes hope it stays that way. Moving forward, Hoskin and Hill say the best outcome is for the state to embrace tribal sovereignty and have all agencies get back to problem solving together.

Whether it’s protecting victims, holding criminals accountable or building and improving their criminal justice system, Hoskin said it’s time to “roll up our sleeves and do that.”

“We are working every single day to do it, that much I guarantee you, so the best outcome is for the Supreme Court to reject this nonsense, and for us to get about the work of building this criminal justice system.” 

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