Oklahoma attorney general, Five Tribes ask for federal legislation following Supreme Court ruling

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Following a recent decision by the United States Supreme Court regarding tribal land in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Attorney General and tribal leaders are asking for federal legislation that will provide clarity moving forward.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that much of eastern Oklahoma, including a large chunk of Tulsa, is still tribal land. It’s a ruling that has a big impact on the state’s criminal justice system.

“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.

The ruling could also potentially effect family law cases.

“The way the statute reads is very broad. It discusses children living within a reservation, those matters shall be heard within the tribal court,” Gifford said. “Right now, that reservation just got a whole lot bigger.”

Gifford says there’s tax issues to work out as well, because the State of Oklahoma can’t tax members on a reservation. That doesn’t mean you can or should stop paying your taxes.

“They should be proceeding forward as if nothing has happened,” Gifford said. “It’s always a good idea to plan for a contingency, but what they need to do is pretend like nothing happened at all.”

It will take time to figure everything out, but Gifford says the Muscogee has no plans to seize land or collect taxes.

“What they want to do is they want to coexist, they also want to have their sovereignty respected and protected,” Gifford said. “That’s what this whole case was about.”

On Thursday, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced that his office and tribal leaders met after the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision.

Hunter says he and tribal leaders released an agreement in principle for proposed federal legislation that will clarify state and tribal jurisdiction in criminal and civil matters.

“Although there are many more details to be ironed out in the near future, we believe this agreement regarding civil and criminal jurisdiction is the best path forward for protecting the public and promoting continued economic growth in Oklahoma. My commitment to our tribal partners is to work together to forge common ground on the issues brought to light by this case. Oklahoma’s tribal nations are a fundamental part of Oklahoma’s culture, economy, politics and governance. The relationship between the tribes and my office is based on trust and mutual respect. And that synergism has been essential to the successful formation of this important agreement.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter

In addition to today’s announcement, the state and the tribes are continuing to collaborate on the immediate provision of public safety on-the-ground, including law enforcement and child welfare matters.

To read the agreement, click here.

On Friday, officials with the Seminole Nation released a statement, saying they have not been involved with the discussions.

“First and foremost, on behalf of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, I congratulate the Muscogee (Creek) Nation on the Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which affirms the original reservation boundaries of all Five Tribes. However, the Seminole Nation has not formally approved the agreement-in-principle announced by the other four tribes. To be clear, the Seminole Nation has not been involved with discussions regarding proposed legislation between the other four tribes and the State of Oklahoma. Furthermore, the Seminole Nation has not engaged in any such discussions with the State of Oklahoma, including with the Attorney General, to develop a framework for clarifying respective jurisdictions and to ensure collaboration among tribal, state and federal authorities regarding the administration of justice across Seminole Nation lands.

Before the Seminole Nation will consider any such framework, the Nation requires respectful and meaningful government-to-government discussions directly with the state. Until such government-to-government discussions occur, and the Nation has an opportunity to fully conduct its own due diligence to any such proposed legislation, the Seminole Nation does not consent to being obligated to an agreement between the other four tribes and the state. As always, the Seminole Nation is proud to be one of the Five Tribes and is eager to have a constructive discussion during this monumental time in our history.”  

Seminole Nation Chief Greg P. Chilcoat

On Friday, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation also said it is not in agreement with the proposal.

“I want to inform you that Muscogee (Creek) Nation is not in agreement with the proposed Agreement-in-Principle document released yesterday by the State of Oklahoma. As the Chief, I very much believe that collaboration between federal, state, and tribal governments is critical and necessary following the Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt. That collaboration, however, does not require congressional legislation.

The Nation will continue to pursue all appropriate intergovernmental agreements to ensure public safety within its borders, as intergovernmental agreements are the hallmark of respect among sovereigns. In fact, many such agreements already exist and we will continue to build upon them, but the Muscogee (Creek) Nation will oppose any proposed legislation that diminishes the Nation’s sovereignty.”

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill.

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