Judges to hear Oklahoma appeal in tribal jurisdiction case
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The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday in Oklahoma’s ongoing battle with Native American tribes over the state’s power to prosecute those accused of crimes on Native American lands, following a ruling of the Supreme Court of 2020.
The court agreed earlier this year to consider limiting its 2020 McGirt decision, a decision the state says wreaked havoc in its courts.
The state’s appeal is in the case of Victor Castro-Huerta, who was charged with malnourishment of his 5-year-old stepdaughter and has since pleaded guilty to a federal charge of child neglect and is awaiting sentencing.
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He was initially convicted in state court, but that conviction and his sentence were overturned due to how state courts interpreted the law following the McGirt decision. The state appealed with the strong backing of Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt and it’s the latest strain on its relationship with the state’s tribal leaders.
In the 2020 case, the Supreme Court ruled that much of eastern Oklahoma remained a Native American reservation. The ruling applied to the Muscogee reservation, but led to similar lower court rulings upholding the historic reservations of several other Native American tribes in Oklahoma, including the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Quapaw, and Seminole nations that cover almost the entire eastern half of the state. .
The ruling, written by Judge Neil Gorsuch, meant Oklahoma prosecutors lacked the authority to pursue criminal charges against Native American defendants in parts of Oklahoma that include most of Tulsa, the second largest city in the state, with a population of approximately 413,000.
Stitt said during his State of the State address in February that “Oklahoma has been stripped of the power to prosecute crimes.”
The Supreme Court usually does not review its decisions so soon. But the state argued the crimes were not being investigated or prosecuted because federal authorities — who can bring criminal charges on tribal lands — are overwhelmed.
“The state will argue that it has the right to protect Indian victims in the Supreme Court this week,” state spokeswoman Carly Atchison said.
Senior Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation, the state’s most populous tribe with about 261,000 citizens, believes Stitt is trying to strip him of tribal sovereignty after the Supreme Court in January denied the state’s request. ‘State to cancel McGirt.
“I think his goal now is to reduce McGirt,” Hoskin said, calling it a 19th-century mindset toward the treatment of Native Americans.
Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton agreed, calling the state’s call and Stitt’s support for action an attack on tribal sovereignty.
“It’s straining our relationship…I like to think it’s a lack of education rather than a lack of understanding” of treaties between two sovereign governments, the United States and the Choctaw Nation, Batton said. .
“It gets harder and harder as he doesn’t come to terms with history and what the United States has agreed to do and who we are as a Choctaw nation,” Batton said.
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The Intertribal Council of Five Civilized Tribes, made up of leaders from the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee and Seminole Nations, last fall rescinded a 2019 resolution congratulating and congratulating Stitt, a member of the Cherokee Nation, on his election as governor.
Stitt and tribal leaders have previously clashed over Stitt’s desire to renegotiate tribal gaming pacts that he says are expiring. Federal and state courts have ruled against Stitt in lawsuits over the gambling issue.
Last year, Stitt decided not to renew hunting and fishing license contracts with the Cherokee and Choctaw nations amid an ongoing dispute between the tribes and the Republican governor.
Stitt lost support from Native American voters because of his actions, according to Hoskin.
“He absolutely did, in my opinion, he’s the most anti-Native American governor in the history of the state,” Hoskin said. “I think his defeat (for re-election) would be applauded by many tribal leaders, certainly me.”
Donelle Harder, head of Stitt’s re-election campaign, said Stitt had disagreements “with a small number of senior tribal officials” but had good relations with the tribal citizens he met while on the job. his travels in the state.
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“I think every Oklahoman knows this is a critical conversation that needs to happen and that no group or organization should be dictating the future of 4 million Oklahomans,” Harder said.