OKMULGEE — Like many of my fellow Muscogee Creek citizens, for days on end, I anxiously awaited the Supreme Court’s decision on McGirt v. Oklahoma as to whether our Reservation remained in existence.
I was attending an event with fellow tribal leaders on the morning of July 9, and I’ll never forget the moment when I heard that we won.
I looked into the eyes of the Muscogee citizens seated around me, and I knew from the emotion on their faces that it meant as much to them as it did to me. For all of us, this victory was hard fought. It was not just the result of our own resilience, but the day also belonged to those who came before us.
Just a little over one hundred years ago, my great-grandfather, Charley Coker was part of a group that testified before a Select Committee of the Senate. In 1906, a few people in Congress wanted to make Oklahoma a state and erase us. It was then that my great-grandfather traveled—alongside the great Chitto Harjo—to Washington D.C. to oppose legislation that would disestablish our Reservation and destroy our tribal government.
As Justice Gorsuch said, Congress considered eliminating our Reservation at the time of Oklahoma’s Statehood—but did not. My great-grandfather was part of the Muscogee (Creek) delegation that prevented the passage of legislation that would have disestablished our Reservation forever. We won because they never gave up. No matter how intimidating the odds, they never sat down. Truly, this victory is our ancestors’ just as much as it is ours.
In the aftermath, I have faced some very tough decisions. While I greatly value our Nation’s solidarity with our sister sovereign tribal nations and I want to continue what has, so far, been a successful cross-jurisdictional partnership with the State of Oklahoma, I will not voluntarily surrender the sovereignty that my great-grandfather worked so hard to protect. On July 17, I announced that our Nation would not sign Attorney General Mike Hunter’s Agreement in Principle that would in effect reverse the Supreme Court’s decision.
We have heard rumors that legislation is inevitable and that our insistence on standing for full victory is a futile effort. As referenced in the Tulsa World’s editorial (“Lacking Diversity”), we are also aware that many powerful interests may be stacking the deck against our position. They claim that an established Muscogee Reservation will result in economic instability or decreased public safety for Oklahoma. However, the continued existence of our Reservation is not harmful to the economic growth of Oklahoma. As evidenced in a recent economic impact study, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation had an $866 million impact on Oklahoma in 2017 through investment in public education, public safety, transportation and health care. The recent ruling by a federal judge in favor of our tribal gaming compacts will strengthen economic stability within our borders and across Oklahoma. The outcome is a testament that by working together we can accomplish more. Like any sovereign nation, we encourage and seek commerce, and we understand the importance of working with all public and private partners to ensure the shared prosperity of those who live and work within our borders.
The Court’s decision will not leave our lands lawless. Well before the Supreme Court ruling, we had countless intergovernmental agreements with the State of Oklahoma and local municipalities to ensure the safety and protection of anyone located within our borders. The Court’s decision only affirms our right, as a Nation, to sit at the table of sovereigns. To that end, I have established the Mvskoke Reservation Protection Commission to conduct in-depth analysis of law enforcement and public safety, Indian child welfare and social services, government-to-government relationships and policy, judicial affairs, legal and regulatory matters, business and commerce and violence against Native women and murdered and missing Indigenous women. The commission will collaborate with other governmental entities including federal, tribal, state, county, and municipal authorities, to ensure criminal, civil adjudicatory and civil regulatory jurisdictional issues are addressed through mutual understanding and cooperation throughout eastern Oklahoma.
Whatever the motivation to undo the Supreme Court’s opinion and disestablish our Reservation, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation will not sit down. Like my great-grandfather and Chitto Harjo, we will appeal to Congress to stand for the sovereignty of our Nation. Like those who came before us, we will defeat any legislation that seeks to erase us.
To the State of Oklahoma, the counties and municipalities, and the members of the Oklahoma Congressional delegation, we stand ready to work with you. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is here to help create a better Oklahoma for everyone. A better Oklahoma does not require adherence to a legislative agenda that seeks to eliminate our sovereignty or our Reservation. The Supreme Court’s affirmation is not a problem to fix, but rather an opportunity to flourish.