State and tribes reach agreement for criminal jurisdiction after Supreme Court decision

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – One week after the Supreme Court decided much of Eastern Oklahoma is still an Indian Reservation, the state and tribes have reached an agreement for how they will handle criminal jurisdiction.

The deal still has to be approved by Congress and signed by President Trump, but the two sides believe it’s a deal that will work for everyone.

“It insures that the state will once again have jurisdictions over crimes in the reservation lands,” Attorney General Mike Hunter told KFOR. “The one difference is we are going to share that jurisdiction with the tribes and the federal government.”

Hunter says they still have some details to work out, but he is confident in the agreement they have in place. The agreement impacts crimes committed by tribal members on reservation land.

“Tribal court will handle the Indian on Indian crimes. The misdemeanor crimes, those will go there. The key difference though, law enforcement agencies will have to be cross-deputized,” Native American law attorney Robbert Gifford said. “That means the city police officers, the sheriff’s office, will have to be cross deputized with the Creek Nation and vice-versa.”

At the same time, major crimes such as murder will be handled in federal court.

“They’re not going to escape accountability for their crimes,” Hunter said. “I’ve had great conversations with U.S. attorneys. They are prepared to pick up those cases.”

Hunter says the new agreement shows how strong the relationship is between the tribes and state.

“The 39 federally recognized tribes in this state are an important port of not only our history, but our economy,” Hunter said. “It is certainly as far as I’m concerned a compliment. I can’t say enough about the collaboration.”

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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