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Tribal attorneys discuss changes within tribes 13 months after McGirt ruling

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Tribal attorneys discussed some changes within the tribes Tuesday at the annual Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association’s annual convention, 13 months after the McGirt ruling came down.

“It has impacted us by driving up our case numbers,” said Kara Bacon, a tribal prosecutor for Choctaw Nation.

From a legal standpoint, tribal prosecutors like Bacon said the McGirt ruling has brought them a bigger workload. In 2020, Bacon said the tribe saw a case count of about 77. Since April 2021, the number jumps to nearly 1,500. A tribal attorney with the Cherokee Nation said they filed about 50 criminal cases per year on average. The tribe has turned over about 1,600 cases since March of this year.

“That is an incredibly large increase made possible by years of preparation,” said a tribal attorney with the Cherokee nation.

The July 2020 decision threw a lot of hypotheticals around and placed the power back in the hands of the tribes. The ruling stated tribal lands were never disestablished by Congress. This means about half of Oklahoma remains Indian territory. The ruling also brought legal changes between the tribes and the state of Oklahoma. This is especially with past cases and crimes that were committed by or against tribal members on tribal lands.

“On an Indian reservation, the state has no jurisdiction over a crime that is comitted by an Indian or against and Indian,” the tribal attorney with the Cherokee Nation said.

Photo goes with story
It’s been 13 months since the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling.

In other areas, both the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes are working with what’s called cross deputization.

“We have cross deputization agreements with every single law enforcement on the reservation,” the tribal attorney with the Cherokee Nation said.

This allows state officers to act as tribal officers on tribal land and vice versa.

“We bring a diversity of expertise,” the Cherokee Nation tribal attorney said.

Bacon said the Choctaw Nation cross-deputized 794 officers in 54 agencies within their tribal land while also updating and revamping their criminal code. The Cherokee Nation doubled the size of their attorney general’s office and has hired six full-time criminal prosecutors. The Cherokee Nation tribal attorney also said they went from one full-time District Court judge to now having three while they are planning to open a new juvenile court.

Even just over one year past the decision, folks in the legal realm in beyond said they were happy with the decision.

“Just knowing from the very first instance, this was a win,” said the tribal attorney with the Cherokee Nation.

“We continue to look to the Oklahoma tribes for their leadership and we commend them for their hard work and their efforts and again; it’s all about tribal community,” said Ernest L. Stevens of the National Indian Gaming Association.

Another ruling on McGirt came down from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals just one week ago. The decision stated that the McGirt ruling does not apply retroactively. It also said that state convictions can’t be overturned even if the defendant or victim is Native American or if the crime happened on a reservation.

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