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Osage Nation seeks court affirmation that its reservation also was never disestablished
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Osage Nation seeks court affirmation that its reservation also was never disestablished

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Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said that his tribe will seek a court ruling that the Osage reservation was never disestablished. “The Osage Nation remains intact,” he said Monday.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, another area tribe is seeking affirmation that its reservation was never legally disestablished.

According to court records, the Osage Nation has filed an amicus brief with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in Young v. Oklahoma, arguing that according to the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, only Congress has the authority to disestablish a reservation and that therefore, Osage County should be recognized as the Osage Nation’s reservation.

“Under McGirt, there is no language sufficient to disestablish the Osage Nation Reservation that Congress established in 1872 to be the Osage Nation’s permanent home, using the Osage Nation’s own money to pay for it,” the tribe’s attorneys wrote. “The court should hold Congress to its word.”

The defendant, Louis Young, is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation who was convicted of first-degree murder in Osage County District Court in 2007 for the shooting death of Jerry Wayne Doyle. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Citing the McGirt ruling, Young filed a post-conviction challenge last fall, saying the state did not have jurisdiction to prosecute him. An Osage County District Court judge held in April that the Osage Nation’s reservation was disestablished by a previous case, Osage Nation v. Irby, thus prompting an appeal by Young to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

An indefinite stay has been granted in Young’s case pending U.S. Supreme Court action in another Oklahoma-based murder case, Bosse v. Oklahoma.

The U.S. Supreme Court found in the McGirt case that Congress had never disestablished the Muscogee Nation’s reservation in Oklahoma, which meant any crimes involving a Native American within the Muscogee reservation were subject to federal or tribal prosecution — not state prosecution. Since that ruling last summer, an Oklahoma appellate court has ruled that it applies to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole reservations because they, also, were never disestablished by Congress.

In 2010, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld a lower court ruling in Osage Nation v. Irby that that tribe’s reservation, at least at the surface level, was disestablished with the adoption of the Osage Allotment Act of 1906. The tribe still holds the mineral rights for all of Osage County.

A taxation case, the tribe was seeking confirmation that all of Osage County still constituted a reservation and that therefore its citizens who worked for the Osage Nation and lived within its boundaries were exempt from paying state income tax.

In the 10th Circuit’s ruling in the Irby case, the judges noted that the Osage Allotment Act of 1906 did not include language explicitly disestablishing the tribe’s reservation and did not open up any surplus land to non-Osages.

Instead, the appellate judges relied on other circumstances surrounding the Osage Allotment Act, including its legislative history, negotiation process, implementation and demographic shifts within Osage County after it was enacted.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the Osage Nation’s appeal in 2011. However, the McGirt ruling issued almost a decade later rejected a similar reliance on extratextual information when determining the status of the Muscogee Nation’s reservation.

In a written statement, Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear reiterated his belief that the 2020 decision applies to his tribe, as well.

“The Osage Reservation remains intact,” he said. “The McGirt case logic plainly applies to all tribal reservations. We look forward to the undoing of the Osage Nation vs. Irby case from 2010 that directly contradicts the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision.”

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My primary beat is public education. I am a third-generation graduate of Oklahoma State University, a board member for Oklahoma SPJ and an active member of the Native American Journalists Association.

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