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'McGirt v. Oklahoma Community Impact Forum' set for Tuesday; tribal leaders irked

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The edginess of affairs between Oklahoma’s largest tribal governments and some state and local officials surfaced again Thursday after tribal leaders took exception to a “community impact forum” on the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision.

The forum, to be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Cox Business Convention Center, was announced on the first anniversary eve of the landmark decision that determined that the reservation of the Muscogee Creek Nation — and by extension those of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole nations — was never dissolved.

The decision has broad implications for eastern Oklahoma, especially in regard to criminal law.

From the tribes’ perspective, the ruling solidifies their sovereignty — an important point on issues from environmental regulation to taxes to gaming.

The lineup for Tuesday’s event, “McGirt v. Oklahoma Community Impact Forum,” is heavy on district attorneys and is scheduled to include Gov. Kevin Stitt and Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado.

That raised questions about why the tribes were not included.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, whose office organized the forum along with the Governor’s Office, said the tribes were invited but did not respond.

Stitt’s office produced an email, dated June 3, to the Cherokee, Muscogee and Chickasaw attorneys general informing them of the event and informally inviting them “and your chiefs.”

The email says a formal invitation would follow.

The chief executives of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Muscogee nations, in Tulsa on Thursday for an intertribal council, gave varying answers about their awareness of the forum, but all expressed more or less the same level of distrust about its intent.

“The fact that we have what appears to be an anti-McGirt rally for political reasons … is the opposite of the direction the state needs to go,” said Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

Kunzweiler said the forum is not intended as an attack on McGirt or the tribes and pointed out that the participants include the Native Alliance Against Violence.

“This is an open event designed to help out victims of crime (affected by) McGirt,” Kunzweiler said.

He and the Governor’s Office both said they hope tribes will participate in the forum.

Muscogee Chief David Hill, whose tribal nation’s boundaries include most of Tulsa, said he wants to hear the concerns of those caught up in the jurisdictional shifts caused by McGirt.

But he also said he believes that victims are being used “for political reasons.”

Kunzweiler and others say McGirt has created confusion among both current and former crime victims as charges formerly heard in state court are shifted to federal and tribal venues.

Many cases have had to be retried because convictions under state law were vacated.

Hill, Hoskin, Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby and Choctaw Chief Gary Batton said Thursday, though, that state officials are overstating the situation as part of a broader attack against tribal authority.

“My concern is that the crisis is one that’s being generated by people who want to erode tribal sovereignty — that would just as soon McGirt be swept away,” Hoskin said. “We see McGirt as reaffirming tribal sovereignty.

“That doesn’t mean there has to be winners and losers. We can all win.”


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