The leader of the Department of Justice made a trip to Green County Wednesday, where he spoke about the Department of Criminal Justice’s plan to invest millions of dollars to Oklahoma tribes.
Attorney General William Barr’s trip to Tahlequah focused on the Supreme Court's McGirt ruling and what the Justice Department is doing to help.
“We value our strong partnership with Cherokee Nation, and I’m here to discuss how we can strengthen that going forward and how we can jointly meet, at least the short-term challenges that are faced with the McGirt decision," Attorney General Barr said in a press conference at the Cherokee Nation headquarters Wednesday.
The nation’s top attorney sat down with Cherokee Nation leaders, including Cherokee Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill, as well as federal prosecutors U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Oklahoma, Trent Shores, and U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Oklahoma, Brian Kuester.
Attorney General Barr said he held the roundtable discussion to learn more about the one of the nation's largest and most established tribes. Barr said he understands the Creek, and possibly the Cherokee Nation as well, could be dealing with resource issues after the McGirt ruling.
"We are committed to implementing and meeting the challenges we are facing right now, which is a question of resources," Barr said. "Obviously we didn’t plan on the McGirt decision and deploying our resources in the last budget cycle, but we have pressing needs now."
“I think it’s a decision weighing on everyone’s minds here in Eastern Oklahoma, and that was the primary focus of our discussions today with the attorney general,” U.S. Attorney Brian Kuester said about the McGirt decision and Barr's visit.
The McGirt ruling made all major crimes on Muscogee (Creek) Nation land involving tribal members fall under federal or tribal jurisdiction. Barr announced $2 million in funding as well the hiring of four new prosecutors - two for the Eastern and two for the Northern Districts - who can prosecute both tribal and federal cases.
“It was a timely announcement by Attorney General Barr that he would provide funding," Kuester added, "I am certainly encouraged by the backing of the Attorney General and the sit-down and conversing of the issues that we might face and how we can make some headway on how to face those issues head on.”
Hoskin said this is the first time the Attorney General has ever visited the Cherokee Nation.
"Clearly McGirt is an interest to the Department of Justice and the Attorney General and that's a good thing," Hoskin said. "He said this is a priority and stressed when something is a priority, resources come behind that, concrete, substantive concrete measures come behind that."
Hoskin said he is hopeful the Department of Justice will support tribal nations if Congress plans to make major changes to the McGirt ruling.
“There are legislative ideas floating around to disestablish the 5 tribes, and if that happens, I will fight that tooth and nail. It's good we have the Attorney General here to hear those concerns directly from us,” Hoskin said.
The Attorney General also announced the Department of Justice will award more than $295.8 million to improve public safety, serve victims of crime and support youth programs in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. $40 million of that grant will go to tribes in Oklahoma, and $7.6 to the Cherokee Nation.
For a full list of where the funding will go, visit this website here.