The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma has ruled that the Creek, Choctaw, and Cherokee nations can control surface coal mining decisions within their expansive historical reservation boundaries.
The ruling follows from the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2020 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which reinstated reservation boundaries before Oklahoma became a state. Today, under McGirt, approximately 43 percent of Oklahoma is “Indian Territory,” including much of Tulsa, the state’s second-largest city, PBS reported.
Indian Territory also includes all of the state’s coal deposits.
Implies that much of eastern Oklahoma is reservation lands
Ruling puts tribes in strong negotiating position
On the surface, MCGIRT v. OKLAHOMA was an effort by Jimcy McGirt, an enrolled member of the Seminole Nation, to get a new trial on sexual assault conviction, a crime that took place on the Creek Reservation.
The underlying issues the case needed to resolve gave the decision a much broader impact.
At issue was whether the State of Oklahoma or U.S. government had jurisdiction to prosecute McGirt’s crime. The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had jurisdiction because the Creek Nation effectively was an Indian reservation, at least as far as prosecuting major crimes such as sexual assault.
This was a roundabout way of a broken treaty getting long-overdue attention.
The decision’s impact ranges from overturning more convictions, like McGirts’, that were committed by an Indigenous person on Indigenous lands. It also could affect such things as zoning, taxation, and environmental law within reservation borders.
The decision will spark significant negotiations between the U.S. government, the state of Oklahoma, and the five Native Nations in the state. Continue reading →