Proposed bill to address criminal jurisdiction in Oklahoma

Two of the Five Tribes said they’ve reached an agreement on federal legislation

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Two of the most powerful Native American tribes in Oklahoma announced they’ve reached an agreement on federal legislation that would address concerns over criminal jurisdiction in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The leaders of the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations said a new bill is expected to be introduced in Congress on Tuesday by Rep. Tom Cole. The bill would authorize the two tribes to reach a compact with the state over criminal jurisdiction.

Dubbed the McGirt decision, the July ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court determined the land owned by the Muscogee Nation was never disestablished by Congress and Oklahoma prosecutors lack jurisdiction over crimes within those boundaries.

The decision has since been expanded by state appellate courts to include the tribal reservations of all of the Five Tribes, known historically as the Five Civilized Tribes, which cover nearly the entire eastern half of Oklahoma.

As a result, hundreds of criminal convictions, including several death sentences for first-degree murder, have been vacated and tribal and federal officials have been scrambling to refile those cases in tribal or U.S. district court.

“We support federal legislation that is based on the core principle of self-determination, clearing the way for us to work with the state as we navigate the best path forward,” Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatuby said in a statement. “We look forward to working with our delegation to secure the passage of such legislation.”

The proposed legislation would not diminish either tribe’s authority or treaty rights but would give the two tribes the express authority to negotiate a separate agreement, or compact, with the state over criminal jurisdiction.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill said one area a compact could address is authorizing state criminal jurisdiction in cases involving non-Native American defendants committing crimes against Native Americans.

Alex Gerszewski, a spokesman for Oklahoma’s attorney general, Mike Hunter, said his office supports the concept of allowing compacts with the state to address jurisdictional concerns.

“Like every piece of legislation, our support depends on the language and whether or not it fixes current problems without creating new ones,” Gerszewski said.

Three of the other Five Tribes — the Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole nations — have not indicated that they would be willing to negotiate a compact over criminal jurisdiction.

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