(WATCH) Supreme Court rules almost half of Oklahoma belongs to Indian tribes

A U.S. Supreme Court decision you may not have heard about has upended the criminal justice system in Oklahoma. It effectively said a historical glitch in procedures means millions of acres of Oklahoma is under control of the Indian population. Lisa Fletcher reports the implications stretch far and wide.

Tahlequah, Oklahoma: a small city with a big influence. This is the capital of two Indian tribes, including the Cherokee.

It seems idyllic. But for the head of the Cherokee tribal police, Shannon Buhl, things have never been busier.

Shannon Buhl: It’s horrific. We would average in tribal court between 30 and 50 cases a year. Our attorney general’s office here has processed a thousand cases in a month and a half.

The rapidly rising caseload is thanks to a startling Supreme Court decision that gave the tribes what they’d long wanted: recognition their original reservations still exist and giving them much more control over what happens in them.

Lisa: What is it now?

Buhl: It’s everything. It’s everything within our historical boundaries. So north out of Tulsa to Kansas, that whole chunk of eastern Oklahoma is now Indian country.

Historically, most of the eastern portion of the state — about 43 percent of what’s now Oklahoma — belonged to five Indian tribes: the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole, who were forced there in the 1830s from their ancestral lands in the southeast. A forced migration that became known as the Trail of Tears.

In 1907, Congress dissolved the reservations when it created the state of Oklahoma, at least that’s what everyone thought.

In 2020, a Seminole Indian, Jimmy McGirt, brings a case to the Supreme Court arguing he should never have been prosecuted in state court because his crime occurred on Indian land. The crime he was convicted of was rape. The Supreme Court agreed, saying Congress never properly dissolved the reservation’s boundaries, meaning his conviction and hundreds of others were invalid.

So, as state criminal convictions are thrown out, federal and tribal courts like this one are taking cases at a break-neck pace.

The state’s Republican governor Kevin Stitt opposes the decision, saying it’ll impact much more than criminal cases

Governor Stitt: McGirt is the biggest issue that’s ever hit a state since the Civil War okay? That’s how big of an issue this is for the state of Oklahoma.

The governor believes the ruling will ultimately affect taxation, land rights, and even the oil riches that support much of the state’s economy.

Stitt: The tribes are starting to say, and even the Biden administration has said that “no, no, no, no. This is also a reservation now for zoning, or taxation,” or in their case, they said, “mining.” They told me, the Department of Interior said, “The State of Oklahoma no longer has the right to exercise its department of mining and its regulation of mines in eastern Oklahoma.

Though mining of coal and other minerals are relatively small scale, oil is big business, worth more than a billion dollars to the state treasury in 2019 in taxes alone.

Stitt: There are some people that think that if the reservation still exists and we’re never disestablished, then they would still exist for all purposes.

Based in Tahlequah, Chuck Hoskin is the principal chief of the nearly 400 hundred thousand strong Cherokee Nation.

Chuck Hoskin: This land that we’re on now, that covers now 14 counties of what is now Oklahoma was promised to the Cherokee nation in terms of our legal authority and that that legal authority never went away.

Lisa: How do you work with a state that has a governor that says, it is an unprecedented assault on the sovereignty of Oklahoma.

Hoskin: Well, first of all, I would point out to the governor actual assaults on sovereignty, such as the suppression of the Cherokee Nation for most of the 20th century, our forced removal on the Trail of Tears. Those are real assaults on sovereignty.

Lisa: Could you assert rights at this point though over the oil that is now on your land?

Hoskin: I don’t think McGirt changes our ability to do that. I would say, at this moment, we don’t have the interest or ability to wholesale displace the state of Oklahoma from its more than a century of regulatory law over the oil and gas industry.

The governor’s office is promising to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision, and efforts by tribes or the federal government to use it to chip away at the state’s authority to collect taxes or regulate industries.

Stitt: The Supreme Court divided a modern-day state in half, and basically said the state of Oklahoma no longer exists like we thought it did, since statehood in 1907.

But the tribes are embracing the ruling and what it means for tribal power.

Hoskin: We have to find solutions on McGirt because McGirt has so many direct implications for every single person who lives, works, passes through reservation lands, and in Oklahoma, that’s substantially half of the state of Oklahoma. So I think we can do it. But I’m an optimist.

The chief may be optimistic, but while the Supreme Court ruling settled one issue, it also left big questions about legal authority unresolved.

For Full Measure, I’m Lisa Fletcher in Oklahoma.


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11 thoughts on “(WATCH) Supreme Court rules almost half of Oklahoma belongs to Indian tribes”

  1. Sharyl, your website is too difficult to read due to all the popup ads that are too difficult to navigate around.

    Also, my Twitter account is locked now for about two years because of a harmless tweet that violated their ToS. I refused to delete it and instead appealed the suspension. I’ve never heard a word sense, but they still try to get me to come back by voluntarily deleting the tweet. The point is, I can read your full tweets or view any attachments to you tweets. Why not move to Substack?

    1. I’ms sorry about the ads! I don’t have a choice, if I use Google ads, which defrays at least a tiny portion of the website cost, they now switched to the popups. I find they are irritating but actually very easy to close. I apologize but it’s a consequence of operating a “free” site for now. Substack may be an added option, but the website is actually well established and super successful from a readership standpoint. I am so far not inclined to ask people to pay to read any of my material.

  2. I side with the Indians! it will be interesting, wonder how many other reservations will suddenly appear to have the same situation. But not to worry, dem have some “Indian senators” to help Uncle Joe keep the tribes in line.

  3. Tax them to use our roads, utility lines and everything else. You are either an American or not. You don’t get to take advantage of the taxpayers footing the bills and then think you are above our laws.

    1. Native Americans do pay taxes. When they purchase gas for travel they are paying the same federal and state tax on gas sales. When they register vehicles, they pay the same rates the rest of us pay.
      If they commit a crime off the reservation, they are subject to the laws of the city/state/federal jurisdictions. By the same token when a non Native American commits a crime on a reservation they are subject to the laws of the tribe.

    1. Susan, ( Sharyl, and Full Measure Team ) :

      [[ copy to paper, then remove this ]]



      Natural law doesn’t defer to the “make love not war” utopianism of weak-minded libertine liberalism.

      Witness only the dimming lamp of reason to explain America’s growing social tragedies and Lady Liberty’s emotional beckoning to the world’s poor and hungry.

      America’s “melting pot” once meant the enculturation of all immigrants into its own brand of Western civilization; an
      unmatched and much envied Eurocentric culture.

      Too many of today’s immigrants, Native Americans, African-Americans, and their left-wing supporters are only self-promoting multiculturalists. They demand cultural diversity and practice revisionist history, making white pioneers appear as destroyers rather than sowers of high-cultured civilization in an untamed, savage land.

      One such myth arising from this clash of cultures is that American Indians were noble people and victims of white tyranny; much like how some blacks mythologize that ancient Egyptian culture was an example of black culture. Native Americans and their liberal supporters present pre-colonial

      America as a pristine land of peace-loving, humanitarian, animal-loving, and deeply philosophical tribes of Indians, whose benevolent and earth-loving ways stand in stark contrast to low-brow white conquerors—as if Western civilization were not preeminent and grand when it found these shores, compared with the primitiveness and savagery of North American Indians ( study the history of the savage MyAz—Mayan and Aztecs civilizations ).

      The Sioux, for example, were fierce fighters of other Indian tribes ( Yes, Native Indians actually battled one another and used torture and atrocities to make a point ). They expanded their territories over their neighbors by war—terrorizing and torturing their captives, and enslaving women and children. They lived and died at the whim of nature, gorging themselves when game was plentiful and starving when it was scarce.

      Indian villages were rife with human and dog excrement and rotting scraps of meat. The early trappers recorded that Indian villages’ stench could be smelled miles away. Wherever they made camp they denuded the environment and killed any edible game in site. Read Lewis and Clark’s journal entry of May 29th, 1805:

      “We passed the remains of a vast many mangled

      carcasses of buffalo, which had been driven

      over a precipice of 120 feet by the Indians

      . . . they created a most horrid stench. In

      this manner, the Indians of the Missouri

      destroy vast herds of buffalo at a stroke.”

      That doesn’t sound like the environmentally friendly and animal-loving portrayal liberals give us ( Thomas Jefferson’s description of Native Indians reads, “merciless Indian savages” ).

      The multiculturalism touted today is absent

      any truthful rendering of minorities’ his-

      toric cultures, and goes to great lengths

      in presenting Western culture in the worst

      possible light. But America is not a multi-

      cultured nation. This is a nation comprised

      of a dominant First Culture of Anglo-Saxons

      and a small but growing collective of minor

      cultures, whose people would divide America

      by promoting what they sought to escape in

      coming here—escaping the bad characteris-

      tics of the governments and cultures from

      which they fled, seeking the safety of white

      men’s high-culture culture.

      The ideas “nation” and “multiculturalism” are antithetical! A multi-cultured nation is doomed unless the dominant host culture remains strong and monolingual in integrating diverse subcultures. America must shed its emotionalism and Libertine low-culture to embrace again the rationalism that gave birth to this nation.

      Lady Liberty’s emotional plea must not subdue reason in controlling both immigration and the spread of multiculturalism—nor should America’s white First Culture surrender to the cultural proclivities of “noble” savages.


      1. No doubt history of the atrocities committed by Native tribes upon other Native tribes is sparse but how often has it been reported historically of the atrocities committed by the US Army as well as the cheating of the Native tribes by the US government. Neither should be forgotten but neither should be used in the context of today!
        Native Americans serve honorably in the US military, today and in many wars of the past. At a recent Wacipi (pow-wow) I attended, I was awestruck by the way the tribes honored those who served in the US military, they were the first group presented during the opening ceremonies.
        Let’s welcome our fellow citizens and not live in the past. They deserve land grants so they may develop into vibrant communities

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