Landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling a big win for tribal sovereignty

McGirt v. Oklahoma acknowledges broken treaties

Implies that much of eastern Oklahoma is reservation lands

Ruling puts tribes in strong negotiating position

Oklahoma today. Image: Wikimedia.

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

U.S. Supreme Court OKs Trademarks with Racial Slurs, Could Undercut Efforts to Force Washington Reds*ins Name Change

A U.S. Supreme Court decision approves the use of a racial slur as a trademark, according to a National Public Radio story.

Members of the Asian-American rock band The Slants have the right to call themselves by a disparaging name, the Supreme Court says, in a ruling that could have broad impact on how the First Amendment is applied in other trademark cases.

That opens the door for other slurs to be trademarked, for instance the Washington Reds*ins. Indian Country Today ran a story: Supreme Court: Yes, You Can Trademark Disparaging Racial Slurs Like R-Word quotes an official with the Washington football team as being “thrilled” with the decision. Others plan continue to fight sports teams’ use of Indian mascots. Continue reading

U.S. Supreme Court Hears “Checkerboarding” Case That Could Expand Tribal Sovereignty

Checkerboarding refers to the federal government practice of breaking up what had been communally owned tribal reservations into individually owned parcels, called allotments. That way, non-Natives could buy land from individual Native Americans and weaken Native control of the reservation.

Leech Lake in northern Minnesota is one of the extreme examples of what can happen under this allotment system. According to Cris Stainbrook, president of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, the Leech Lake Band and individual allotees own a mere 4 percent of the land within their historic reservation boundaries.

Downtown Pender
Downtown Pender (Wikimedia Commons)

A case now before the U.S. Supreme Court — Nebraska v. Parker — is bringing an interesting challenge to this historical effort to diminish Native control over traditional reservation lands. The case started when Omaha Tribal members tried to impose liquor licenses and taxes on alcohol sales in Pender, Nebraska.

According to Wikipedia, Pender had a population of 1,002 in 2010 and supports seven liquor stores. The Omaha Tribe tried to gain revenue in 2006 by imposing taxes on these “nuisance” businesses.

Business owners affected by the proposed tax sued to block them, arguing they were not on the reservation and the tribe had no jurisdiction. The state of Nebraska joined the plaintiffs. The Omaha Tribe argues that while they no longer own land in Pender, it is still within the historic boundaries of its reservation.

Continue reading