The United States Supreme Court ruled last week that 3 million acres of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation — including most of Tulsa — are still a reservation at least so far as criminal prosecutions go.
The direct implications of the high court’s McGirt ruling are obviously big. State prosecutors don’t have jurisdiction over Native American defendants in that area, meaning a lot of Oklahoma criminal convictions may have to be retried in federal court. The court makes it clear that, to use the terms in federal criminal law, the Creek nation is “Indian Country.”
Some people are suggesting that the implications could get even bigger if they were logically applied to other tribal nations in the eastern half of Oklahoma and issues beyond criminal justice, but others were counseling against a sky-is-falling reading of the case.
The ruling doesn’t apply outside Oklahoma. It doesn’t change the state’s ability to prosecute the vast majority of crimes anywhere in the state, and it didn’t change anything outside of criminal justice for now.
“All it did was bring clarity to jurisdictional questions regarding the border, and it enhanced the Creek Nation’s ability as a sovereign nation to work with other sovereign interests to protect people and to work in common interests,” Jonodev Chaudhuri, former chief justice of the Muscogee (Creek) Supreme Court, told The Associated Press.
We were encouraged to see leaders of the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole and Chickasaw nations and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter immediately say they are working on an agreement to present to Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve any jurisdictional issues raised by the McGirt ruling.
We don’t think any of the players want to create chaos in Oklahoma criminal justice or anywhere else.
We’re anxious to see the details of that agreement, as are a lot of people.
The McGirt ruling will be parsed, dissected, argued and applied for a long time. It’s not the last word on the issue, but it is a turning point for our understanding of Oklahoma’s history, its laws and the way the sovereign powers within the state borders will work together in the future.