Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs launched a campaign to roll back treaty rights upheld by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed the existence of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's reservation boundaries.
The Oklahoma City-based conservative think tank sent a letter last week to the state's congressional delegation, asking them and other members of Congress to formally disestablish the reservations of the Five Tribes. The letter was sent as plans were being made to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill, in response to inquiries about the letter, said the tribe was "grateful for the OCPA letter." He said for the first time someone finally "is telling the truth about the real motives behind legislation to address McGirt."
"We have said all along that legislative efforts to undermine McGirt would harm Indian nations," Hill said. "But now it's clear that the full goal of those pushing legislation is the eradication of sovereignty and the ultimate disestablishment of reservations."
The ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma determined the "land these treaties promised" in exchange for giving up "their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama "remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law." That meant the state lacked jurisdiction to prosecute Jimcy McGirt, an enrolled member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, for three serious sexual offenses committed on Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation.
Larry Parman, chairman of the OCPA Board of Trustees and a former Secretary of State and Secretary of Commerce, said disestablishing the reservations is necessary to ensure "fairness, certainty and unity" in the application of all laws. He believes the McGirt decision brings uncertainty to laws and regulations as they relate to criminal and civil jurisdiction, taxation, regulatory issues and economic development.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. rebuffed that notion, describing the OCPA's "anti-tribal views" as "outdated and ill-informed." He said OCPA's request "should be promptly rejected" by Oklahoma's congressional delegation.
"OCPA’s letter is not just in opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court McGirt ruling, but it’s also in opposition to the Cherokee Nation," Hoskin said. "We knew our reservation was never diminished, but it took more than a century for the government of the United States to acknowledge this and for the state of Oklahoma to come to terms with the continued existence of our reservation."
Hoskin acknowledged the McGirt decision might create some jurisdictional gaps for all Five Tribes in eastern Oklahoma. But he said tribal leaders will work together — as they have in the past — with state and federal officials to solve those issues.
"That action needs to respect our tribes, not erode our sovereignty," Hoskin said. "Congressional action needs to empower tribes to do what we’ve done best for over two decades, which is work with the state of Oklahoma, resolve legal issues, and work towards stronger communities across our reservations.”
The Commission for the Protection of Cherokee Nation Sovereignty, which Hoskin created after the Supreme Court announced its McGirt decision in July, has taken steps already to address some of those issues. It issued recommendations on Friday about how it plans to expand the tribe’s courts, attorneys and marshal service.
Hill vowed to contest any effort to diminish the tribe's reservation or its sovereignty.
"We will fight so that not one iota of the sovereignty, treaty rights, and jurisdiction affirmed in McGirt is surrendered through legislation," Hill said. "We stand with hundreds of other tribes across the nation when we say “see you on the battlefield!"
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe had not seen the letter when he met with the Phoenix editorial board Thursday, the day it was sent to Washington. After the McGirt decision he expressed confidence he could work with state officials, "tribal organizations and the delegation to find a workable solution for everyone that ensures criminals are prosecuted and brought to justice in the most appropriate manner."
Inhofe said later he did not want to be involved with anything unless the tribes were involved.
Democratic challenger Abby Broyles said OCPA, with its letter, "is only trying to cause unnecessary division."
"There’s a serious path forward, but this isn’t it because McGirt v. Oklahoma was a narrow ruling," Broyles said. "I’ve said all along, what’s good for the tribes is good for Oklahoma — we must work together for the mutual interests of the tribes and our state.”