WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the exercise of Native American rights in a long awaited July 9 landmark decision that holds the Muskogee (Creek) Nation retains jurisdiction over the treaty lands it negotiated at the end of the 19th Century Trail of Tears.
"On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever,” Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the narrow 5-4 majority of the judicial panel.
“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word,” the opinion in McGirt v. Oklahoma states.
The Treaty with the Creeks in 1832, another by the same name in 1833, and yet another in 1866 established 3 million acres in the eastern part of present-day Oklahoma state, including a large chunk of Tulsa (population 400,000), as Muscogee territory.
The far-reaching implications of the finding stirred reactions from many quarters.
“The Supreme Court today kept the United States’ sacred promise to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of a protected reservation,” the tribal government said in written statement. “Today’s decision will allow the nation to honor our ancestors by maintaining our established sovereignty and territorial boundaries.”
The Muscogee were quick to point out that the victory for treaty rights does not put private or state land status in jeopardy; instead, it allows the native nation government to take part in criminal prosecutions of American Indians in cases within reservation borders.
“We will continue to work with federal and state law enforcement agencies to ensure that public safety will be maintained throughout the territorial boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation,” it said.
Four other forcibly relocated tribes that had obtained recognition as landlords of the lion’s share of the rest of the Oklahoma, chimed in with the State Attorney General’s Office, showing they had anticipated the decision and a smooth transition to shared law enforcement as well as prosecution activities.
“The state, the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole nations have made substantial progress toward an agreement to present to Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice addressing and resolving any significant jurisdictional issues raised by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma,” they said.
“The nations and the state are committed to implementing a framework of shared jurisdiction that will preserve sovereign interests and rights to self-government while affirming jurisdictional understandings, procedures, laws, and regulations that support public safety, our economy, and private property rights,” they said.
“We will continue our work, confident that we can accomplish more together than any of us could alone.”
Watch a replay of the historic U.S. Supreme Court oral argument in McGirt v. Oklahoma!
With the nation's highest court closed due to the #COVID19 pandemic, case was heard via teleconference on May 11, 2020. The outcome will impact the sovereign status of millions of acres of land promised to Indian Nations in eastern #Oklahoma.
Audio and Transcript: Oyez, www.oyez.org/cases/2019/18-9526 (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Indianz.Com Replay: U.S. Supreme Court - McGirt v. Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Congressional delegation, long accustomed to conciliatory relations with the tribal nations, noted that the decision impacts “the Five Tribes of Oklahoma and all Oklahomans.”
In a written statement, it added, “We are reviewing the decision carefully and stand ready to work with both tribal and state officials to ensure stability and consistency in applying law that brings all criminals to justice.
“Indeed, no criminal is ever exempt or immune from facing justice, and we remain committed to working together to both affirm tribal sovereignty and ensure safety and justice for all Oklahomans,” said the delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives, which consists of Kevin Hern (Republican) , Markwayne Mullin (Republican), Frank Lucas (Republican), Tom Cole (Republican) and Kendra Horn (Democrat).