TULSA, Okla. — Cherokee and Chickashaw tribal leaders announced Monday their support for tribal-state compacts for criminal jurisdiction.
The Cherokee Nation and Chickasaw Nation Criminal Jurisdiction Compacting Act of 2021 is being introduced in U.S. Congress this week.
"Oklahoma and tribes have proven time and again that they can work together as partners," Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a video posted to the tribe's official Facebook page.
"They need to sit down and hammer this thing out and get it hammered out quick," Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said.
The bill allows both Cherokee and Chickashaw nations to enter an agreement with the state to prosecute native citizens on land now under tribal jurisdiction after the U.S. Supreme Court McGirt ruling.
“This legislation will empower our two tribes to compact with the state of Oklahoma on the prosecution of certain criminal cases so that we can address some of these legal challenges with real solutions," Hoskin, Jr. said.
Hoskin, Jr. said tribal courts can only try non-natives who commit crimes on native land in domestic cases. The Major Crimes Act only allows tribes to impose a three-year maximum sentence for crimes and nine years in total for stacked charges. This compacting act would allow the state to seek harsher punishment, if allowed by state statute.
"It helps ensure these perpetrators face the justice these victims and their families deserve," Hoskin, Jr. said.
“I’ve been very anxious about trying to get the tribes and the state and the federal government all on the same page because it’s creating chaos out there," Kunzweiler said.
Kunzweiler told 2 News, he believes a resolution like this one should have been brought to the table years ago.
"It should never have gotten to this point," he said.
Hoskin, Jr. said Cherokee tribal counsel filed 700 cases dismissed by the state due to McGirt. Kunzweiler said several of those are high-profile, once-convicted criminals now allowed a second chance in tribal court.
"It's not right and we know it's not right," Kunzweiler said.
Kunzweiler said he still seeks the resolution's support from Muscogee Nation. A Muscogee spokesperson told 2 News:
"We support every nation’s sovereignty and right to seek their own specific legislation affecting only them. We are reviewing the broad wording of this proposed act to understand its implications for not only the Muscogee Nation but all of Indian country. It is imperative that any bill that may be crafted, is done so in a way that does not create a perverse incentive for the federal government to withhold funding and force tribes into compacts against their will."
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. full statement:
“As Chief, I will always protect our tribal sovereignty and 100 percent of the recognition of our reservation that was affirmed in the historic McGirt decision and by the state of Oklahoma. This legislation will empower our tribe to compact with the state on the prosecution of certain criminal cases, so that we can ensure criminals can receive proper justice, without compromising on our sovereignty.
Compacting is an important tool of self-determination that allows us to decide how best to address our own needs. It is a solution that will only increase our options so that justice can always be served, and so that victims and their families – both Native and non-Native – don’t have to worry about their cases falling through the gaps. This legislation gives Cherokee Nation the option to compact, should we choose to do so, and compacting only happens with approval of the Council of the Cherokee Nation. On behalf of the Cherokee Nation, I look forward to working with our congressional leaders and the state to pass this legislation and enhance our options.”
The Cherokee Nation has continued to upgrade its criminal code, appoint more district court judges, and hire more deputy marshals, prosecutors and victim advocates.
The tribe has now filed more than 700 cases that were dismissed by the state in the Cherokee Nation District Court. That’s more cases filed by our courts in the past year than filed in the past 10 years combined.
What this legislation provides for is the option of compacting so that non-Natives who commit crimes on our reservation – the ones we are unable to prosecute – can receive proper justice through the state’s court system. For those small number of crimes that stretch beyond statute of limitations, compacting can also help ensure these perpetrators face the justice that victims and their families deserve."
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby full statement:
“We appreciate the hard work of the Oklahoma delegation as they work with us, the State and members of the community on criminal jurisdiction matters post the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision. We support federal legislation that is based on the core principle of self-determination, clearing the way to for us to work with the State as we navigate the best path forward. We look forward to working with our delegation to secure the passage of such legislation.
Chickasaw Nation leadership team has worked diligently to ensure we are prepared to meet our expanded criminal justice responsibilities, both now and for generations to come.
Our Lighthorse Police continue to enforce the law, working in close partnership with allied State, Federal, and local agencies, and our prosecutors continue to bring criminals to justice. Since the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals applied the McGirt decision to the Chickasaw Nation reservation on March 11, our prosecutors have brought approximately 225 new criminal cases in Chickasaw Nation District Court and worked with Federal prosecutors to ensure appropriate Federal charges are brought in scores more cases.
For years, we have worked in close partnership with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to protect and serve all the residents of our area. Cross-deputations and other agreements among federal, state and local partners support the efforts of all the brave men and women who maintain law and order in the 13 counties that make up the Chickasaw Nation.
We remain partners with allied agencies, united by our commitment to public safety. That will not change.
Together, we have the tools we need to address the challenges of serving every individual who calls this area home. The most important thing we can do right now is work together to ensure that justice is served and that we, the people who live here as neighbors, friends and partners are safe. United by a common mission, we have made tremendous progress. Working together, we have the ability to continue protecting and serving our families, friends and neighbors for generations to come.”
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