In a landmark decision the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that nearly half of Oklahoma would be considered tribal land due to Congress’ inability to ‘disestablish’ treaties previously concluded with five of the largest tribes in the State.
According to a Thursday article from NativeNewsOnline.net’s online news site, yesterday’s five-to-four decision in the McGirt v Oklahoma case means that almost all of the eastern half of the state will now be legally classified as an aboriginal reservation. This is expected to have the effect of prohibiting any crimes committed in such regions from being charged by state agencies with jurisdiction only by federal authorities.
The case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court after an appeal by a Seminole Nation resident, Jimcy McGirt, was rejected by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals against his 1997 conviction in an Oklahoma court for the alleged rape of a four-year – old girl. The defendant is currently serving a life sentence and had reportedly claimed that the state lacked authority to arrest and prosecute because his supposed crime had occurred on land belonging to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch allegedly agreed in writing for the majority with McGirt’s legal claim and ruled that the complainant would have been charged under the Major Crimes Act, which grants authority to federal authorities for suspected acts committed on their own property by or against Native Americans, rather than by the state of Oklahoma.
A statement from Gorsuch read: “Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word. For Major Crimes Act purposes, land reserved for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation since the 19th Century remains ‘Indian country’.”
.Fellow Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor reportedly joined Borsuch in his opinion, with dissenting compatriots being Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. The decision reportedly had the effect of turning over the contested lands to the Chickasaw Nation, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Cherokee Nation, the Seminole Nation, and the Choctaw Nation, including virtually all of the state’s second largest region, Tulsa.
Oklahoma became the 46th state of the United States in 1907 following the enactment of the Oklahoma Enabling Act by Congress, which merged the various territorial reservations of the area with the federally controlled Oklahoma Territory in order to be able to add the whole nation to the Union. Yet the highest court in the country officially reached its decision after finding that this piece of legislation had failed to expressly ‘dismantle’ the earlier rights of those aboriginal lands.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation officially issued a statement in reaction to the landmark decision in which it thanked the United States Supreme Court for upholding the nation’s ‘sacred promise’ of providing its people with a secure reservation in perpetuity.
The statement from the federally-recognised tribe read: “Today’s decision will allow the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to honour our ancestors by maintaining our established sovereignty and territorial boundaries. We will continue to work with federal and state law enforcement agencies to ensure that public safety will be maintained throughout the territorial boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.”