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Oklahoma Tribes Want Criminal Justice Agreements With State

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma
U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr (back row at left) visited Tahlequah on Sept. 30, 2020.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Tribe leaders of the Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations want Congress to allow them to make agreements with the state of Oklahoma in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding criminal jurisdictions.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the decision— which ruled that Oklahoma prosecutors lack the authority to pursue criminal cases against Native American defendants in parts of the state— affirmed that the reservations of the Five Tribes were never disestablished. He said Congress should protect that ruling and give tribes and the state the power to enter compacts regarding criminal jurisdiction.

After Jimcy McGirt won a U.S. Supreme Court case in July on grounds that the state didn’t have jurisdiction to prosecute him, tribes were forced to deal with a “fractured” system for prosecuting crimes in Indian Country that has cost millions of dollars, according to Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and tribal Attorney General Sara Hill.

“The decision in McGirt substantially changes how crime is prosecuted throughout eastern Oklahoma,” said Sara Hill, Cherokee Nation attorney general.

McGirt, 72, was convicted in 1997 for molesting a child and sentenced to 500 years in prison.

Some members of the Five Tribes have balked at the idea of signing compacts with the state since the McGirt decision, viewing it as giving up hard-won sovereignty over their reservations.

If Congress approves legislation allowing for compacts between individual tribes and the state of Oklahoma, the sovereign governments could develop a workable system for criminal jurisdiction that ensures public safety and justice, tribal officials said.

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