The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could have far-reaching implications for eastern Oklahoma tribal gaming. It could also establish America’s largest tribal reservation, creating a “seismic shift in criminal and civil jurisdiction,” depending on the state, in an area that includes Tulsa and involves 1.8 million residents.
The situation has caused Indian Country Today to think recently about whether there will soon be “casinos and smoke shops soon begin popping up on every corner of downtown Tulsa?”The question is whether the State of Oklahoma has ever disturbed the ancient reservation of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. In its new sovereign territory, the State currently operates nine gaming properties.
In 1866, an agreement with the federal government established the first reservation and included the counties of Creek, Hughes, Okfuskee, Okmulgee, McIntosh, Muskogee, Tulsa and Wagoner.
If the court decides that it has never been disestablished, then the region and its people would be controlled by the Creek Nation, not by the government. It would also mean that only territorial or federal governments would prosecute crimes involving a tribal member as a victim or suspect.
The ruling could also be extended to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole Tribes whose ancestral homelands covered most of Oklahoma in the North.
Those tribes would theoretically be free to open as many Class II gaming operations as they wanted without the state’s approval within those traditional boundaries.
In a separate case earlier this year, SCOTUS first addressed the issue, but was unable to reach a decision. In that case, (Sharp v. Murphy) Patrick Murphy— a member of the Creek Nation sentenced to death by Oklahoma State for a fellowenrolled citizen’s murder in 1999 — argued that his sentence was unconstitutional because the state had no right to try him.
The new case concerns Jimcy McGirt, a member of the Creek Nation, who was convicted in the 1990s of violating a four-year-old girl and sentenced to 500 years in prison.
The question SCOTUS is asked to answer is identical to that of the Murphy case, according to the Office of the State AG.
SCOTUS was blocked 4-4 on that ruling after it was opposed by Justice Neil Gorsuch because the case had been appealed from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which he had previously headed. A panel of nine judges will hear the case of McGirt.
In the case of Murphy, for the plaintiff, Lisa Blatt argued that the federal government had undermined the power of the State by the time Oklahoma became a state in 1907.
The Federal General Allotment Act divided the reservation into 160-acre plots shared by tribal members in 1887. Then, in 1898, the Curtis Act stripped virtually all of its sovereign powers from the tribe.
Oklahoma’s creation included many of these tribal lands, and while the reservation was never officially disestablished, it was effectively “dissolved,” argued Blatt.
The state claims that it would create economic and judicial instability in the region to accept traditional territories as modern reservations.