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Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

The U.S. Supreme Court will not overturn the McGirt decision after denying 31 separate appeals petitions from the state of Oklahoma.

However, on Jan. 21, the court agreed to review one case that will look at how far the decision applies. Specifically, if the state can prosecute non-Natives who commit crimes against Natives on tribal lands.

The case, Oklahoma v Castro-Huerta, is expected to be heard in April.

(Related: Supreme Court agrees to hear case that might limit McGirt)

Through the tribe’s Twitter account, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation celebrated the mass denial of petitions as an affirmation of treaty rights and upholding of judicial precedent.

In a statement Monday to Indian Country Today, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill said it’s time for the state to start investing in making the McGirt decision work for all Oklahomans.

“Today’s Supreme Court action should end the State of Oklahoma’s long, unfruitful campaign of litigation that has come at the cost of untold millions of taxpayer dollars and has diverted resources away from properly implementing the sovereignty ruling for the benefit of all who live and work in the Mvskoke Reservation,” Hill said.

The landmark decision in July 2020 affirmed that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation had never been explicitly disestablished by Congress. Ultimately, the decision also applied to other tribes in the state that had similar treaties and that reservation boundaries similarly had not been dissolved.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, Cherokee, said in a statement last Friday he was encouraged the Supreme Court would review the one case and called the fallout from the McGirt decision, “destructive.”

“The reality is that the McGirt decision has hamstrung law enforcement in half of the state,” Stitt said in the statement. “Oklahoma is a law and order state, and I was elected to protect all four million Oklahomans, regardless of their race or heritage. I will not stop fighting to ensure we have one set of rules to guarantee justice and equal protection under the law for all citizens.”

Yet tribal leaders across the state disagree with that assessment, saying they’ve been working hard to fulfill and meet criminal justice responsibilities.

In a statement also posted to Twitter, Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said the tribe has strengthened intergovernmental partnerships that are protecting public safety and maintaining law and order.

“We will continue our work to make sure our communities are the strongest, healthiest, and most secure they can be,” the statement reads. “We are confident that together, we can overcome most any challenge we face, and we look forward to partnering with those who bring that same spirit to the task.”

Oklahoma. Supreme Court. McGirt v. Oklahoma. Carpenter v. Murphy. Sharp v. Murphy.

The Cherokee Nation alone has invested more than $30 million into its criminal justice system, according to Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. On the ICT newscast, Hoskin Jr. said the tribe has hired more prosecutors, more officers to the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service, increased staff in the victim protection service and appointed additional district judges.

“So we're handling the caseload,” he said. “I mean, think about it, the state of Oklahoma had 113 years to create a criminal justice system. The Cherokee Nation has had really a matter of months, and I think we've done well.”

Hoskin Jr. went on to say if one were to talk to individuals on the frontlines, “they'll tell you that we're meeting our obligation.”

An editorial published in the Tulsa World Tuesday called for Stitt to reset the state’s relationship with tribes and work together to best implement McGirt.

“The only thing stopping a smoother, faster implementation of the Supreme Court’s ruling is either further litigation against the tribes or inaction,” part of the editorial reads. “The former has gotten Oklahoma nowhere, and the latter is unacceptable.”

The fact that Stitt is a Cherokee Nation citizen isn’t lost on Hoskin Jr. either, describing the governor as one of the most anti-Indian tribe governors in the history of Oklahoma. Hoskin Jr. said Stitt first began attacking tribes when it came to gaming compacts and has attacked on other issues since, including McGirt.

“I really counted on his heritage in his family history to sort of tip him back into the column on the right side of history. That didn't happen,” Hoskin Jr. said. “It's really stunning. It's disappointing. But look, that's his views of Indians and I can't explain it.”

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