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WASHINGTON (KFOR) – Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt says he has ‘deep concerns’ about legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives related to the Supreme Court’s McGirt vs. Oklahoma decision.

On July 9, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Muscogee (Creek) reservation was never disestablished.

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.”

State, local, tribal leaders meet for McGirt decision discussion
This week, state leaders including Seminole Nation Chief Greg Chilcoat, District 22’s District Attorney Paul B. Smith and Attorney General Mike Hunter met for discussions regarding the McGirt decision and how they will move forward with cases, both past and present, involving Native Americans on tribal land. (Photo: KFOR)

As it stands, these decisions alter the State’s legal jurisdiction and law enforcement capabilities on a significant portion of eastern Oklahoma, creating uncertainty for many Oklahomans.

“In general, the McGirt decision by the United States Supreme Court has created a significant amount of confusion, especially in regards to inmates who are serving time in state custody for crimes committed on historic tribal lands,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in August 2020.

After the Supreme Court’s decision, Hunter said his office was flooded with appeals, which he said he would oppose.

“The McGirt case does not constitute a get out of prison free card,” Hunter said. “We are not going to allow our justice system to be exploited by individuals who have murdered, raped, or committed another crime of a serious nature while the federal government considers whether to rearrest or adjudicate their cases.”

In the meantime, tribal nations have worked to take over hundreds of cases impacted by the decision.

Earlier this month, Congressman Tom Cole introduced legislation that would authorize the Chicksaw Nation, Cherokee Nation, and the State of Oklahoma to reach an agreement without the federal government getting involved.

The act, known as the ‘Cherokee Nation and Chickasaw Nation Criminal Jurisdiction Compacting Act of 2021,’ was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 11, 2021.

“Consistent with the diligent work done and progress made with state and tribal partners, this legislation does not mandate how Oklahoma, the Chickasaw Nation and the Cherokee Nation should come to agreement. Instead, the legislation would give them an avenue to decide independently, rightly ensuring that any decision directly affecting Oklahoma or these tribes is made at the state and local level,” said Cole.“Indeed, Oklahomans are the best suited for making decisions that affect their own unique communities. 

The measure would also address the immediate issues facing law enforcement officers as a result of the ruling.

“Over the past several months, I have had many serious and productive conversations with law enforcement officers across the Fourth District of Oklahoma. This legislation would provide an immediate solution to the urgent issues facing law enforcement, giving them clarity to enforce the law, keep dangerous criminals behind bars and ensure justice is served,” Cole said.

On Thursday, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt released the following statement, saying he has ‘deep concerns’ about House Resolution 3091.

“I am encouraged by efforts to address a portion of the unprecedented challenges forged by the McGirt decision through H.R. 3091. The decision has created a checkerboard of jurisdiction threatening public safety and the state’s ability to enforce its laws. As Governor, it is my duty to seek solutions that are in the best interest of all four million Oklahomans and after carefully reviewing the legislation, I have deep concerns about the bill in its current form. My first and foremost concern as Governor is public safety and I am fully committed to working with state leaders and our federal delegation to ensure the safety of all Oklahomans.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt

KFOR reached out to Gov. Stitt’s office regarding specific concerns that he has with the bill, but we have not heard back yet.

KFOR reached out to the Cherokee Nation, who said they are fighting for legislation that would protect the tribes, victims, and their families.

“The Cherokee Nation continues to work with our partners in Oklahoma and leaders in Congress on ensuring tribes have the tools they need to protect public safety for our citizens and for everyone on our reservations. The newly introduced legislation would strengthen tribal sovereignty by giving the Chickasaw Nation and the Cherokee Nation more options to address gaps in criminal jurisdiction on their reservations, allowing for narrow compacts only when both the tribe and state agree.

We invite the Governor to engage constructively on the legislation, and as with all of Oklahoma’s leaders we will continue to work with his office to ensure we are doing what is best for tribes and for everyone in the state, and particularly for victims and their families. The Cherokee Nation will not stand for any solution that would undo the McGirt decision or limit any of our hard-fought sovereignty.”

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

KFOR also reached out to the Chickasaw Nation and are awaiting a response.

The Oklahoma Media Center, launched by Local Media Foundation with financial support from Inasmuch Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, is a collaborative of multiple Oklahoma newsrooms/outlets that includes print, broadcast and digital partners. The OMC’s latest project focuses on the McGirt SCOTUS ruling. This story is part of that effort.