TULSA, Okla. — Tribal leaders, citizens, and allies rallied Wednesday after the city of Tulsa and others filed an Amicus Brief, asking the Supreme Court to overturn the McGirt ruling. The landmark decision ruled parts of northeast Oklahoma are still part of Native American land and not in state jurisdiction.
The rally turned into a march to City Hall.
“It is extremely important that our community comes together at this time to support the commissioners of the GTAIAC. They were just as blind-sided as anyone, including Chiefs of surrounding nations, the Tulsa City Council, and everyone outside of Mayor Bynum’s private circle. This mayor has proven time and again that he is willing to harm the Indigenous, Black and Brown communities for his own political gain. He’s following Governor Stitt’s playbook. Our people need to remember - Andrew Jackson negotiated treaties with tribal nations on behalf of the United States for a decade before he became President and forced our ancestors to walk more than 2,000 miles, during winter, to this land," event organizer Sarah Gray said.
The Amicus Brief says, "the people of Tulsa and Owasso have borne the brunt of McGirt’s diminution of the cities’ ability to govern. It claims that because of McGirt, numerous criminals who victimize Tulsa’s and Owasso’s citizens have gone unprosecuted. Tulsa and Owasso police officers have referred thousands of cases to federal prosecutors and tribal authorities—but only a tiny fraction of these cases are actually prosecuted. The Brief claims, federal authorities decline to prosecute all but the most serious crimes, and tribal authorities do not have the resources to prosecute many of the cases referred to them."
Commissioners with The Greater Tulsa Area Indian Affairs Commission said they were taken by surprise by the brief.
The Chief of the Cherokee Nation Tribe Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. responded to the brief, "Mayor Bynum and I spoke before the briefing. I knew he was going to file it. I was disappointed , but he and I work well together and so we have a good relationship in terms of communicating, but I was still stunned that the City of Tulsa would take this path. We don't feel respected when leaders in our state say that our reservations ought to be destroyed. We've got to continue to work to build this place up."
Part of respect is communication. The Greater Tulsa Area Indian Affairs is meant to be an open line of communication with the city and the tribes.
Council Chairwoman, Cheryl Cohenour, said the city's lack of communication with its commission is disturbing.
"We are the liaison with the city of Tulsa and the native communities so this was quite a surprise to find out that something of this magnitude had occured without us having any knowledge of it," Cohenour said.
Her commission held a special meeting to talk to its tribal leaders and hear from the public. At the meeting councilor, Kara Joy McKee, said the mayor's decision also blindsided council members.
There's two options here, one is for the state to continue to deny that McGirt happened and continue to fight against the tribe, and the second path is to say, okay we don't like this, but it happened and we're going to work together with the tribe to improve public safety. That's what we want, that's what we've been asking for, but that's really hard when you have elected leaders in the state who refuse to get past the fact that they don't like McGirt and that it happened," Sara Hill, Attorney General for the Cherokee Nation said.
Mayor G.T. Bynum responded with the following statement:
“Tonight the members of the Greater Tulsa Indian Affairs Commission did their job. They provided a forum for concerns and viewpoints from our Native American community to be shared. I appreciate their work. As mayor, my job is to protect the citizens of Tulsa. When criminals are not being prosecuted by tribal and federal courts, we should not withhold that information from the Supreme Court. We have a responsibility to the victims of those crimes to share that information, and have done so through our Amicus Brief. I think the world of the tribal leaders we have in the Cherokee, Muscogee, and Osage Nations. They have been incredibly important collaborators with me during my time as mayor, and they will continue to be in the future. Leaders can have principled disagreements and still work together for the common good, and my hope is that will be the case here.”
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