The landmark ruling upholds the sanctity of treaties between the United States and American Indians—to a certain point.
By Nora McGreevy, SmithsonianMag.Com
Though the decision specifically addresses the Creek Nation reservation, many media outlets have broadly applied it to four other Native American reservations established by 19th-century treaties. These lands encompass much of the state’s eastern half, including Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second-largest city, reports Ann E. Marimow for the Washington Post.
On Thursday, the State of Oklahoma and the five tribal nations affected by the ruling—the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole—released a joint statement detailing “substantial progress toward an agreement … resolving any significant jurisdictional issues raised” by the ruling. The statement went on to reiterate the six parties’ commitment to “maintaining public safety and long-term economic prosperity.”
Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, acting under secretary for museum and culture, and a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, tells Smithsonian magazine that the court’s decision is a “welcome” one because it upholds the principle that Native American treaties should be honored unless Congress explicitly revokes them. Still, he preaches caution in interpreting the ruling, pointing out that it centers on jurisdiction, not land ownership.
“The headlines are wrong,” says Gover in an emailed statement. “The Court did not give eastern Oklahoma back to the Tribes. Nobody will lose their land or their home. The decision simply means that Indians in that part of the state are subject only to the criminal jurisdiction of the Tribes and the United States, as is true on Indian reservations in many other states.”
Jimcy McGirt, a member of the Seminole Nation who in a state trial was convicted of sex crimes against a child, brought the case at the center of the ruling to the Supreme Court. Because the crime occurred on tribal land, McGirt argued that he should be re-tried in a federal court.
Per the Post, both McGirt and Patrick Murphy, a member of the Creek Nation convicted of murder in 1999 and the subject of a related case called Sharp v. Murphy, will now receive new federal hearings.
Jonodev Chaudhuri, a tribal ambassador for the Creek Nation, tells Kolby KickingWoman of Indian Country Today that the ruling is a huge win for the tribe. “Many folks are in tears,” he says. “Despite a history of many broken promises, as is true with many tribal nations, the citizens feel uplifted that for once the United States is being held to its promises.”
Summarizing the ruling’s overall significance for Vox, Ian Millhiser concludes, “The primary impact of McGirt is that Oklahoma loses much of its power to enforce certain laws against members of Native American tribes within the borders of tribal lands. But the decision will have far less impact on non-Native Americans.”