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Tribes respond to Oklahoma AG letter on tribal jurisdiction

Posted at 4:28 PM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-21 19:25:41-04

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter is urging Congress to act on the McGirt ruling's impact on Oklahoma.

The letter sent to tribal leaders, state leaders and Congress pushes for legislation that would create more flexibility between the three when it comes to sharing jurisdiction.

In the three months since the ruling was handed down by the Supreme Court, federal prosecutors and tribal courts have seen a rapid increase in case load.

The McGirt ruling re-establishes the boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and will most likely be applicable to other Federally recognized Tribes.

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

That means crimes committed by Native Americans on Indian territory are now under the jurisdiction of Tribes and the Department of Justice.

To read Attorney General Mike Hunter’s letter, CLICK HERE.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation sent us this statement reacting to the letter:

“We have yet to examine the details of Attorney General Mike Hunter’s latest request for federal legislation responding to the McGirt decision, but we have still not found any compelling evidence demonstrating such a federal response is necessary.
At first look, it appears that what AG Hunter is proposing already exists under federal law. P.L. 280, allows for the transfer of subject matter jurisdiction to the state. But the historical record shows that tribes that have voluntarily relinquished their authority have found themselves trapped and unable to ever recover their sovereignty.”

The Cherokee Nation sent us this statement:

“Today marks great progress in our effort to make McGirt the kind of enduring win for Cherokee Nation and Indian Country that it deserves to be and to preserve our reservation and sovereignty.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s proposed compacting framework for federal legislation relating to McGirt is consistent with my insistence that Cherokee sovereignty be preserved and that the Five Tribes, the State of Oklahoma and the federal government have a mechanism for resolving any criminal jurisdiction issues, short term and long term, that may be presented by McGirt.

The Attorney General’s proposal improves upon the principles set forth in July by absolutely preserving the ability of any of the Five Tribes to proceed without any modification to criminal jurisdiction under McGirt, but will also authorize any of those tribes, individually, to compact with the state, if they choose to do so, on matters that are in the best interest of the individual tribe and its communities within the tribe’s reservation. Under this proposal each of the Five Tribes is empowered to choose the best path forward and that path can evolve over time in a way that yields certainty, stability and ensures public safety. We look forward to further discussing approaches to achieve such agreements that are in the best interest of our tribe and tribal citizens.

Significantly, the Attorney General’s proposal leaves matters relating to civil judicial and taxation for state and tribal resolution under existing law. There is no need for Congress to weigh in on such matters, as the state and the tribes have historically, and in the future, can resolve such matters to our mutual benefit.

From the beginning, I have been guided by three main principles relating to McGirt. First, that Cherokee Nation’s reservation be recognized and our sovereignty preserved not merely in the immediate wake of the McGirt decision, but for all time. Second, that federal legislation enhancing the authority of Cherokee Nation and other governments to work together to resolve criminal jurisdiction related issues under McGirt is necessary. And, third, Cherokee Nation cannot and will not sit back while Congress considers the long-term impact of McGirt and simply pretend that Congress has no authority in this matter. To do so would be to hand our fate to others who would destroy our reservation and undermine our sovereignty.

Cherokee Nation has remained a critical part of discussing the best path forward to preserve McGirt since the decision was handed down in July. Guided by our principles, Cherokee Nation has engaged with stakeholders, listened to our citizens and to voices across Indian Country. We convened a Commission on Sovereignty, which included members of our legislative, executive and judicial branches, that has already done important work. It is clear that by engaging in these efforts, along with the efforts of other tribal leaders, has led to this important announcement by Attorney General Hunter. I applaud his effort and I look forward to continuing to work to make McGirt the kind of enduring victory it needs to be for the Cherokee people.” –Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

The Chickisaw Nation sent us this statement:

“Only last week, an Oklahoma court applied McGirt to the Chickasaw Nation and concluded our lands, too, remain Indian country for purposes of criminal jurisdiction. As we have been for some time, we remain engaged with our State and Federal partners as we continue preparations to fulfill our shared law enforcement responsibilities.

We thank Attorney General Hunter for recognizing the value of intergovernmental cooperation. Over several decades, Tribes and Oklahoma have worked together on a government-to-government basis and built a rich fabric of compacts that have served all of us well. In August, we communicated to the Oklahoma delegation that, if it is to act, Congress should build on our history of successful intergovernmental cooperation and provide narrow Federal authorization to empower Tribes and the State to compact on criminal jurisdiction. We commend Attorney General Hunter supporting this approach.

We believe if Congress is to act, it should act consistent with what has worked, and what works is Tribal self-determination and intergovernmental cooperation. Oklahoma and the Chickasaw Nation are well able to work together, and we look forward to the prospect of working toward new compacts that build on our strengths and provide for the public’s safety.” – Bill Anoatubby, Governor, the Chickasaw Nation

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