Oklahoma state capitol building

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.  — The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic July 9 decision that ruled the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation was never disestablished by Congress, thereby altering the state of Oklahoma’s legal jurisdiction in the eastern portion of the state, has created a need for tribal, state and federal officials to establish new ground rules moving forward.

The McGirt v. Oklahoma decision has, in essence, moved legal jurisdiction in much of eastern Oklahoma to the federal government since tribes in Indian Country fall under the federal jurisdiction. 

According to the Supreme Court decision, Congress will have a say in how the jurisdiction issue will be resolved.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma officials are wasting no time in their attempt to come to a resolution on the new jurisdictional rules. 

On Thursday, the Oklahoma attorney general and the Five Tribes of Oklahoma—Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole— announced an agreement to address how criminal and civil legal matters will be handled in the state. The agreement followed last week’s Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which reinstated the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation across 11 counties in eastern Oklahoma.

On Monday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced the formation of the Oklahoma Commission on Cooperative Sovereignty to address concerns and make recommendations to the state and Congress as a pathway forward.

“We know that there is a lot of unpredictability right now,” said Gov. Stitt. “We are committed to working with all Oklahomans, tribal and non-tribal, to create a practical and sustainable path forward. This commission is the first step.”

According to a press release issued by the governor’s office, the commission will advise the governor on civil, criminal and regulatory concerns, and will be composed of leaders from various spheres including law, government and business. Gov. Stitt has named Larry Nichols, co-founder of Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy, as chair of the commission. Other members include former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles, former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, Oklahoma Sen. Julie Daniels, Oklahoma Rep. Mark Lepak, Alan Armstrong, Brent Bolen, Suzie Brewster, Harold Hamm and Joe Robson.

Additional members may also include a representative of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, a member of the District Attorneys Council and representatives of Oklahoma’s federally recognized American Indian tribes.

Gov. Stitt said collaboration with Oklahoma’s Tribes will be crucial. 

“We absolutely need the partnership of the tribes for this process to be successful,” he said. “I respect and recognize the sovereignty of every tribe in Oklahoma and look forward to working with every tribe to ensure that we meet our shared economic, security and social goals.”

Gov. Stitt emphasized that the commission’s work will be comprehensive and thorough, presenting a unified response for the state. 

Adding to the recent saga in the aftermath of the McGirt ruling, the Oklahoma Congressional delegation released a joint statement on last week’s agreement between the Five Tribes and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.

“Following the McGirt decision, we appreciate the essential input and recommendations of Tribal Nations and the Oklahoma Attorney General on how all Oklahomans can cooperate together in the days ahead,” the joint statement said. 

“Many legal questions remain that will require clarifying legislation. We look forward to working with the Tribal Nations, the state, and all stakeholders, to develop a legislative framework that honors tribal sovereignty and gives consistency and predictability to all those living and working in Oklahoma. While there are valid questions and concerns that have caused confusion for individuals, business, and law enforcement, we expect federal legislation to provide greater clarity for everyone. We all want and expect our state to be safe and prosperous. Working together as neighbors, we will accomplish this enormous task together.”

The Oklahoma Congressional delegation includes Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and James Lankford (R-OK) and Representatives Frank Lucas (OK-03), Tom Cole (OK-04), Markwayne Mullin (OK-02), Kevin Hern (OK-O1) and Kendra Horn (OK-05).

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Levi Rickert
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Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. He can be reached at [email protected]