Gov. Stitt calls for tribes to enter formal negotiations with state following McGirt ruling

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which recognized the continued existence of the Creek reservation, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt today asked the leaders of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole nations to enter into formal negotiations with the state to address and resolve the potential issues that have arisen because of the McGirt ruling. 

On July 9, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that much of eastern Oklahoma, including a large chunk of Tulsa, is still tribal land for purposes of the Major Crimes Act.

“For anybody that has an Indian card, a CDIB card, a certified degree of Indian blood,” Native American law attorney Robert Gifford told KFOR. “If they are within the Creek Nation, the state of Oklahoma had no jurisdiction over them.”

Right now, for tribal members, something small like a traffic ticket goes to tribal court and all felonies are heard in federal court.

Major felonies for non-members are also heard in federal court, but the state still has jurisdiction over misdemeanors.

“As the commonly-elected Governor for all 4 million Oklahomans, it is critically important that the State of Oklahoma and the leaders of Oklahoma’s tribes impacted by the McGirt decision begin negotiations, in earnest, to resolve the potential ramifications of this ruling,” said Gov. Stitt. “Under Oklahoma law, which is consistent with Oklahoma’s Constitution, the Governor of Oklahoma has the authority to negotiate and enter into cooperative agreements on behalf of the state with Oklahoma’s Native American tribes. Oklahoma law also allows me to designate a lead negotiator for the state, and for this role I am designating Ryan Leonard, Special Counsel for Native American Affairs.”

The governor continued, “As all who have read the Supreme Court’s opinion know, the McGirt decision was limited to matters of criminal jurisdiction. In that regard, ensuring the public safety of all Oklahomans and providing certainty and adequate resources for the men and women in law enforcement in eastern Oklahoma is of paramount importance. As things stand today, crimes are going unpunished, and convicted criminals are seeking to be set free. We can’t allow this to happen. Some have also suggested that McGirt may potentially be expanded to civil issues that could negatively impact the state’s tax base, as well as undermine certain regulatory and zoning authority in eastern Oklahoma. As both an Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, my response to those suggestions is that Oklahoma’s future success is dependent upon our common values of certainty, fairness and unity being embraced by all. Working together is how we make Oklahoma a Top Ten state.”

Governor Stitt and other state officials have been in discussions with tribal leaders for many months concerning the potential impacts of the McGirt ruling. 

“Now is the time to roll up our sleeves to resolve the issues raised by McGirt in a manner consistent with the best interests of all Oklahomans,” St23itt said.

The ruling could also potentially effect family law cases.

Gifford says there’s tax issues to work out as well, because the State of Oklahoma can’t tax members on a reservation. 

Chickasaw Nation Governor Anoatubby sent the following statement regarding Stitt’s invitation.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the State of Oklahoma on numerous common interests and practical matters. We have long been engaged on issues relating to this case and look forward to deepening our government-to-government partnerships as more opportunities arise. We believe there is a clear path forward on criminal jurisdiction respecting Tribal, State and Federal sovereignty. We will continue to work toward durable frameworks that respect the law and bring us together to meet our shared goal to protect and serve all Oklahomans. Moving forward, we believe what is good for one of us is good for all of us. Recognizing the common interests of everyone involved is a great place to start.”

Governor Bill Anoatubby, Chickasaw Nation

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Baton has also issued a statement.

Governor Stitt is seeking negotiations for agreements on criminal jurisdiction that require federal legislation. The Governor has no authority to enact federal legislation. I have been clear with the Governor and state officials in numerous discussions that I oppose legislation on criminal jurisdiction after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma. We have made preparations as a sovereign nation to uphold the criminal justice and law enforcement responsibilities required by the McGirt decision.

Chief Gary Batton
Choctaw Nation Oklahoma

The Cherokee Nation sent the following statement as well.

“Following the McGirt ruling, the Cherokee Nation continues to work towards outcomes that will fully preserve our sovereignty while protecting the public safety of our citizens and of everyone in Oklahoma. As we have said for a while, we believe the path is clear on criminal jurisdiction issues: federal legislation should authorize compacting between the Cherokee Nation and the state. Compacting on these criminal matters will give tribes additional options to enforce the law without restricting the decisions of tribes that do not choose to use them. On civil and taxation issues, as always we are ready to work with the state. The Cherokee Nation will continue to be a good partner in this state as it has proven for more than a century. Our objective remains to reach tribal and state agreements that are not based on fear or bias, but facts, and demonstrate a respect for tribal sovereignty.”

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

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