The U.S. Supreme Court decision last week giving Oklahoma shared criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country means a new level of cooperation between the Stitt administration and tribal governments—or at least it should.
In a statement he released just after the ruling came down, Senator James Lankford (R-OK) said the decision “affirms the responsibility of federal and state officials to work together to pursue justice for victims of crimes on reservation land…[and] enables Oklahoma state and local law enforcement and our Oklahoma courts to work with our friends and neighbors in tribal government to prosecute crimes committed by non-tribal members on reservation land.”
The Stitt administration said that is precisely what it will do, while tribal leaders are somewhat skeptical.
“While we hope for the best,” reads a statement from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, whose member, Jimcy McGirt, brought the case that led to the 2020 ruling diminishing the state’s jurisdiction in Indian Country, “we are not optimistic that the quality of effort from the State of Oklahoma will be any better than before.”
Leaders in Indian country who question the governor's motivations point to his considerable efforts to overturn the 2020 McGirt ruling, which reinforced the sovereignty of the five 'civilized tribes', and to his failed lawsuit challenging the renewal of tribal gaming compacts.
Governor Stitt, however, said the Castro-Huerta decision is a win for all four million people who live within the borders of Oklahoma, that there will again be a level playing field, in terms of criminal justice, across the state, and that criminals in eastern Oklahoma will no longer escape prosecution.
In a statement Wednesday, Stitt spokeswoman Carly Atchison said, “This is a pivotal moment. Governor Stitt looks forward to working together with leaders across the state to deliver justice for Native victims and combat the criminal justice crisis following McGirt."
But tribal leaders dispute the idea that McGirt caused a "criminal justice crisis" and said that even in pledging cooperation, comments like this sow discord.
"I was disappointed that they very first comment from the governor was," said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. in an interview Tuesday, "rather than to reach a hand out and say, 'case is done, let’s work together', his comment was essentially, 'now we are safe', really doubling tripling quadrupling down on this idea that before this case somehow there was chaos, people were not safe—that just wasn’t true and I don’t think that was the right tone to set."
Still, Hoskin said, for the good of all, it's time to bury the hatchet.
"The case is done," said Hoskin. "The law is what it is and we respect the Court's decision even if we disagreed with it. So now let’s work together."