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Tribal leaders concerned what Castro-Huerta ruling could mean for future cases

Oklahoma Capitol
File photo
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Several tribal leaders from across the country testified before a congressional subcommittee on Tuesday over the ongoing effects of the Supreme Court's recent ruling on Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta.

Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, Bryan Newland, said the court's ruling on Castro-Huerta is causing both confusing and concern for tribes all over the United States.

"The Castro-Huerta opinion creates uncertainty across Indian Country," Newland said. "State prosecutors may now accept or decline cases involving crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian Country without getting the consent of the tribe."

Newland says not only does the court's decision in June invite further conflict, but it diminishes a tribal nation's ability to coordinate with federal, state, and local agencies on public safety priorities.

For Jonodev Chaudhuri, the Ambassador for the Muscogee Creek Nation, the solution is simple.

"Restore tribal jurisdiction and authority," Chaudhuri said. "The solution to the problems created by Castro-Huerta is not to study a problem we already understand."

Native leaders from Michigan, South Dakota, Washington, and Massachusetts all agreed that the Supreme Court's ruling undermines tribal sovereignty — and that something must be done immediately to mitigate those effects.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sarah Hill said the court's ruling on Castro-Huerta is a retreat from the principal decision made in McGirt v. Oklahoma.

"This departure from well-established law represents a real threat to tribal sovereignty," Hill explained. "The court essentially flipped the script on state criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country.

Hill said the most troubling aspect of the ruling is what it could mean for future cases.

Meanwhile, Matt Ballard, the district attorney for Rogers County says that Castro-Huerta is serving as a "beacon of hope" for tribal members.

"And that's what Castro-Huerta provided to us in the state of Oklahoma was the opportunity to go out and seek justice for our Native American victims," Ballard explained.

Newland said the the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior will be holding two listening sessions next week to further discuss the ruling's impact on tribal sovereignty.

Before making her way to Public Radio Tulsa, KWGS News Director Cassidy Mudd worked as an assignment editor and digital producer at a local news station. Her work has appeared on ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates across the country.