In a landmark judgment, the US Supreme Court declared that about half of the state of Oklahoma legally belongs to the Native American people. It can also help change the child rape conviction and prison sentence against McGirt.
McGirt was convicted of raping a 4-year-old back in 1997 in Wagoner County. He had made the claim of Muscogee (Creek) Nation as the place where the incident happened. He is a member of the Seminole Nation.
What Does The Ruling Mean For Native American People?
Now the Justice Department has decided (result in favor: 5-4) that the major part of the east area of Oklahoma, which includes their largest city Tulsa, will be a part of the reservation. This brings a major development in the McGirt vs Oklahoma case, which has been going on for decades. Ian Heath Gershengorn, McGirt’s lawyer had mentioned that when the US promises something, the courts seek to deliver it.
Along with the four liberals, Justice Neil Gorsuch, a presidentially appointed conservative, wrote his opinion in favor of the ruling. He spoke of the Trail of Tears, which was the forcible relocation of several Native American tribes to Oklahoma back in the 19th Century.
Back in the day, the American Government had promised that the land would legally be Native American property for perpetuity.
Why was it necessary?
With this ruling, many tribe members who were previously found guilty in the state courts could now challenge their convictions committed on the specific land boundaries. Now, only federal prosecutors are allowed to prosecute Native Americans who are convicted of any crime committed in those geographical areas. Even state tax laws will not be applicable to the tribe members living within these boundaries.
As of now, 1.8 million people live in these areas, out of which 15% are Native American. An Atlantic magazine analysis showed that as per the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, around 1887 Native Americans were imprisoned due to convictions of crimes committed within these boundaries. Less than 1 of 10 cases would be qualified for the new trial.
JUST IN: The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Native American rights in a 5-4 decision in a case out of Wyoming.
Justice Neil Gorsuch provided the decisive vote in the case, siding with the court's liberal justices.
— NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) May 20, 2019
There were talks of this ruling becoming legal mayhem. Chief Justice John Roberts has mentioned that this would destabilize any decision made by the courts of the state. It will also dismiss about a decade of past convictions passed by the state courts. This would make any ruling on Native American affairs, including taxation and environmental laws, uncertain.
A former chief justice, Jonodev Chaudhuri, has dismissed all such talks. According to him, only a small number of Native Americans would get the benefit of this ruling.
The Native American Point of View
The ruling was welcomed by the Five Tribes of Oklahoma – Seminole, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Muscogee Nation. They promised to cooperate with both state and federal authorities and ease the jurisdiction process.
According to them, the State and the Nation have committed to implement a shared jurisdiction process to preserve self-governance and sovereign rights. They also affirm jurisdictional proceedings and regulations.
This ruling can help the economy of the Native American people and promote public safety as well as property rights.
Image Credit: Natalia Bratslavsky