TULSA, Okla. — In the wake of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is still an Indian reservation, people are asking a lot of questions.
Many are wondering what the decision means for Native Americans and non-natives living right here in Tulsa.
Reporter Tony Russell asked Mary Kathryn Nagle, a tribal sovereignty attorney and Cherokee citizen, to give us insight into the ruling.
QUESTION: What was really decided by the supreme court this week?
ANSWER: If Congress doesn't establish a reservation, it continues to exist. And that's all the supreme court concluded is that the reservations never been established, it still exists. Second, it's not a restoration of any landscape. No lands are going to change ownership. It's the border, right that we're saying this border is still here. It's like affirming that the border of the state of Kansas still exists. Yes, Kansas State border still exists. If I'm an individual landowner inside Kansas, that doesn't mean I no longer own my property. It just means it's been confirmed that I'm located inside the borders of Kansas.
QUESTION: So, for those who are non-native, what happens to my land? Am I still allowed to be here?
ANSWER: This is a huge question that a lot of people have. The fact that the nation's reservation has never been established has no impact on individual land ownership. In fact, a lot of the reservations in the United States today are comprised of significant portions of non Indian owned land. That's true in Montana. That's true in the state of Washington. That's true in South Dakota. It's true in Arizona. It's true here in Oklahoma. And what that means is, it's it's just like being an landowner in the state of Kansas or in the state of California, right, you're within a certain sovereigns borders, but you get you still own your land. Now, the next question folks have is well, what can the tribe do to me? Of course, I think this is a problematic question because tribes are not out there to get non Indians right. Tribal governments, just like any other sovereign government has the interest of protecting the health, safety and welfare of all the citizens within its borders.
QUESTION: Okay—so what about the power of law enforcement to arrest people on what is considered a reservation?
ANSWER: Here's the current law right now, the State Police will still have the authority to detain Indians on the reservation. Now, ultimately, they may have to turn them over to the feds or to the tribal nation if a law... And so a lot of these scary scenarios are, you know, and I understand it's just based on ignorance and not knowing and fear. And unfortunately, I think some some misrepresentations that Oklahoma has perpetuated in some instances, honestly, but because they wanted to win this case, and it was in their interest, you know, the state government to sort of get some fear into folks into folks minds.
QUESTION: And finally, what about these maps circulating in news articles and social media?
ANSWER: Yes, it is a map that says here are reservations. But again, it gives us it paints this picture of the state has no sovereignty or jurisdiction within these colored blocks of tribal reservations, which is not the law. I mean, if that was the law, then Fine, let's be honest with the world about the current situation. But when you put a map out like that, which I noticed, like the New York Times did, and I don't think they were trying to be anti tribal sovereignty or create fear and folks, but you've got USA Today, all these publications posting this map saying, has Oklahoma's gone to tribes. It's just not true. Right. And there are plenty of states that have huge chunks of reservations like that, where up to maybe 30% of the state almost, is a reservation like Arizona.
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