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Nancy Marie Spears
Gaylord News

Members of the Quapaw Nation Business Committee and representatives from the U.S. Attorney's Office Northern District of Oklahoma held a news conference Thursday to commemorate an Oklahoma’s district court ruling affirming the tribe’s reservation, according to a statement from the tribe.

For Quapaw Nation, headquartered in Miami, Oklahoma, this means confirming what they already knew: the reservation will continue to remain intact after 188 years.

“The Lawhorn decision rightfully affirms what we have always known – The Quapaw Nation is Indian Country,” Quapaw Nation Chairman Joseph Tali Byrd said in a statement. “Our reservation still exists, and our sovereign rights are what we have always known them to be.”

Tribal leaders also addressed in the news conference strides the tribe has made in preparation for the jurisdiction transfer that has ensued after the McGirt application, including opening a $4 million courts and criminal justice center less than two years ago.

The conference was held at the tribe’s new Ki-ho-ta Justice Center just outside Miami, Oklahoma.

The center features a new courtroom and administers prosecutions in addition to offering a variety of counseling and recovery services: DUI classes, drug and alcohol assessments, a juvenile court and a methadone clinic.

“It serves as a one-stop service provider for crime victims and tribal citizens seeking family reunification, rehabilitation, reentry and a range of other therapeutic social services related to the justice system,” according to the statement.

The tribe used federal grants to establish the center, and between the Ki-ho-ta Center and Quapaw Nation Court, is currently employing three judges, a court clerk and a staff, conducting business five days a week.

The court clerk is working with Ottawa County’s district attorney’s office and the U.S. attorney in the northern district of Oklahoma to identify which cases need to be refiled in federal or tribal courts after the McGirt application shifted Oklahoma’s jurisdiction in prosecutions of Indigenous people on Indigenous land.

“An open line of communication between the tribes, the state of Oklahoma, and federal prosecutors is critical to serving both victims and the accused,” the tribe’s statement reads.

Indigenous individuals charged with felonies on reservations have been tried under the Major Crimes Act since 1885. In July 2020, the Supreme Court upheld this precedent in McGirt v. Oklahoma, reaffirming only Congress has authority to disestablish reservations, meaning the Muscogee Nation’s reservation has remained intact since 1833.

All the Five tribes have had their reservations affirmed using the McGirt application, and Quapaw Nation is the first tribal lands outside the Five tribes to be affirmed using McGirt.

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Nancy Marie Spears, a Gaylord News reporter based in Washington, is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. For more stories from Gaylord News visit GaylordNews.net.