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Green Country prosecutors navigating McGirt decision impact

Posted at 8:49 PM, Oct 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-08 15:49:17-04

TULSA, Okla. — State prosecutors are working on solutions to navigate the Supreme Court ruling that reestablished parts of Green Country as an Indian Reservation.

The McGirt ruling reestablished the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation which covers 7,000 square miles of eastern Oklahoma. The ruling is expected to expand to other Oklahoma tribes within the year.

READ MORE: Supreme Court rules much of eastern Oklahoma remains tribal reservation

The ruling changes jurisdiction for cases involving Native Americans on Creek Nation territory.Those cases are no longer in state jurisdiction but divided between tribal and federal courts.

The Court of Criminal Appeals is expected to rule on additional cases that would do the same for the Cherokee Nation and other tribes in Oklahoma.

The ruling and expected outcome of the appeals process has state, tribal and federal leaders scrambling to find solutions and prepare for an influx of more jurisdictional changes in the near future.

Attorney General William Barr visited Oklahoma last week meeting with the Cherokee Nation because of that possibility.

Cherokee Nation Principle Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. is actively engaging with U.S lawmakers in anticipation of a legislative solution.

“At the end of the day, we want people protected," Hoskin said. "We want our sovereignty protected. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. They can both happen at the same time.

Hoskin added, "I think it [legislation] needs to be something that gives us some flexibility as tribes in terms of what the path looks like on jurisdiction, but anyone who thinks that the Congress, the United States is not going to act, I think misreads the Congress, and I read that Congress says that they will act."

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is taking a much different stance on a legislative approach.

“First, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation does NOT support any "legislative fix" to roll back to a broken system or in any way diminish the sovereignty that was just affirmed in the Supreme Court," MCN Press Secretary Jason Salsman said. "We believe the strong relationships that we have with our local, state and federal partners can only grow and flourish from here as we work to establish even more agreements than we already have. The proof is there that inter-governmental cooperation can be successful without Congressional action.“

District Attorney Jack Thorpe covers Adair, Wagoner, Seminole and Cherokee counties, which are mostly in both Creek and Cherokee territories.

“We have probably the fifth largest District Attorney's Office in the state," Thorpe said.

Thorpe’s office is now working with both the Tribes and other DA’s offices in the state to establish standards to navigate the new reality.

“Instead of griping about it, what we've tried to do is reach out, help as much as we possibly can," Thorpe said. "We've agreed to help train the prosecutors for the Cherokee Nation. We've agreed to work with the police reports and give them in a deliverable format, both the Cherokee Nation and the Creek Nation, trying to do everything we can for the victims as well as these other sovereign nations.”

Thorpe’s office as well as other state prosecutors in Indian Country are now meeting regularly to try to work out how to unload a massive amount of cases to the feds and tribes.

“So, we're, we're watching those cases. We have created spreadsheets. We've shared those with the Cherokee Nation as well as the federal government, and we're identifying those cases that we anticipate once a quarter Criminal Appeals rules," Thorpe said. "Those cases will have to be assumed by the Cherokee Nation, or the federal task force.”

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