U.S. Supreme Court deems half of Oklahoma a Native American reservation
The decision means that for the first time much of eastern Oklahoma is legally considered reservation land. More than 1.8 million people live in the land at issue, including roughly 400,000 in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second-largest city.
Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the ruling, joining the court’s four liberals in the majority.
Gorsuch referenced the complex historical record that started with the forced relocation by the U.S. government of Native Americans, including the Creek Nation, to Oklahoma in a traumatic 19th-century event known as the “trail of tears.” At the time, the U.S. government pledged that the new land would be theirs in perpetuity.
“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word,” Gorsuch wrote.
…In a joint statement, the state, the Creek Nation, and the other four of what is known as the “Five Tribes” of Oklahoma said they were making “substantial progress” toward an agreement on shared jurisdiction that they would present to the federal government. The other tribes are the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole.
“The Nations and the state are committed to implementing a framework of shared jurisdiction that will preserve sovereign interests and rights to self-government while affirming jurisdictional understandings, procedures, laws and regulations that support public safety, our economy and private property rights,” the statement said.
Unless changes are made, tribe members who live within the boundaries would now become exempt from certain state obligations such as paying state taxes, while certain Native Americans found guilty in state courts would be able to challenge their convictions on jurisdictional grounds. The tribe also may obtain more power to regulate alcohol sales and expand casino gambling.