There is no guarantee that Congress and the United States Justice Department will adequately fund U.S. Attorneys Offices across our reservation. On other reservations elsewhere in Indian Country, prosecution of non-Indian offenders by the Justice Department has been lacking. And under the U.S. Major Crimes Act, tribes can only impose a maximum three-year sentence for criminal convictions — nine years max if the charges are stacked. This proposed legislation does not mean we won’t be trying cases in our Cherokee Nation District Court. We will absolutely move forward protecting citizens, seeking justice and serving victims and families. For the past ten months, Cherokee Nation has carefully been planning and adding resources so we were ready for this new chapter in history. We have continued to upgrade criminal codes, appoint more district court judges, and hire more deputy marshals, prosecutors and victim advocates. We’ve increased spending on our criminal justice system by record setting amounts, all using our own tribal revenue. We will spend a minimum, annually, of $35 million on our criminal justice system above the millions that we already spend. We have filed more than 800 cases that were dismissed by the state. That represents more Cherokee Nation District Court cases in the past year than were filed in the previous 10 years combined.
“It protects Cherokee sovereignty”: Nearly a year after the historic #McGirt decision, the Cherokee Nation is still trying to address criminal jurisdiction on its reservation. Tribal leaders think Congressional legislation can help. #Oklahoma #Sovereignty https://t.co/wZOEaDtkly— indianz.com (@indianz) May 10, 2021
The new federal legislation does not interfere with this growth of our justice system. It simply allows for the possibility of making a compact with the state so that non-Natives who commit crimes on our reservation – the ones we are unable to prosecute – can receive proper justice through the state’s court system. Compacting can also help ensure justice is done in those small number of crimes that stretch beyond the statute of limitations. Ultimately, we may determine that no compact is warranted. But, the legislation allows Cherokee Nation to explore that option. Even though Cherokee Nation will not wait around on Congress to provide adequate funding, the legislation also proposes much needed federal funding for tribes to meet our criminal prosecution obligations. And for those sentenced by Cherokee Nation courts to more than six months, the legislation ensures that they can serve that time in the nearest federal corrections facility. One important area of the law the legislation leaves fully in tact is the Violence Against Women Act. Cherokee Nation fought for Indian Country provisions in VAWA and we stand ready to continue protecting victims of domestic violence, and prosecuting non-Indian and Indian offenders, in our own criminal justice system. For over a century, the state of Oklahoma illegally prosecuted Natives who committed crimes on our reservation land, which should have been the right of our tribes and the federal government. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has corrected that error, it’s understandably taken some time to adjust to what is the most impactful ruling in Indian Country in generations. We are up to the challenge. In his ruling, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch noted the potential for cost and conflict around jurisdictional boundaries, but tribal nations in Oklahoma have proven time and again that we are responsible governments and reliable partners. Throughout our history of dealing with the U.S. government, the only federal policy approach that ever truly solves issues in Indian Country is tribal self-determination. This legislation puts returning tools to the tribe at its core. For all of us who made clear that we must maintain 100 percent of our tribal rights affirmed by the Supreme Court, this proposed legislation protects them. For those of us who want the option of compacting on criminal matters so that no criminal offense goes without justice, this legislation provides the mechanism to do that. Under this proposal, any compact with the state must be approved by the Chief and the Council of the Cherokee Nation. Compacts are an important tool of self-determination that we have successfully used on issues ranging from gaming to hunting and fishing licenses to car tags. Compacts, by their nature, are limited in duration and subject to renegotiation and even termination. Compacts allow us to share rights and responsibilities with the state based on what best meets our local needs. Compacts, ranging from gaming to motor fuel sales, have worked in the best interest of the Cherokee Nation. Criminal justice compacts can potentially do so as well. We presently have no option to compact on criminal justice. This legislation provides us the option of compacting, should the Principal Chief and the Council choose to exercise it.
The leaders of the Cherokee Nation and the Chickasaw Nation are seeking federal legislation to address criminal jurisdiction issues in #Oklahoma. They say tribal-state compacts are the right solution following the historic #McGirt decision. #Sovereignty https://t.co/A0FbOI8qN3— indianz.com (@indianz) May 10, 2021
Chuck Hoskin Jr. is the 18th elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, the largest Indian tribe in the United States. He is only the second elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from Vinita, the first being Thomas Buffington, who served from 1899-1903. Prior to being elected Principal Chief, Hoskin served as the tribe’s Secretary of State. He also formerly served as a member of the Council of the Cherokee Nation, representing District 11 for six years.
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