Oklahoma Congressman To Introduce Legislation On Tribal Jurisdiction Compacts

Monday, May 10th 2021, 9:44 pm
By: Kristen Weaver

An Oklahoma congressman will introduce a bill Tuesday that would allow two Oklahoma tribes to reach an agreement for the state to prosecute certain crimes, even if they happen on tribal land.

The purpose of the bill is to fill some gaps from the Supreme Court's ruling on tribal jurisdiction in hopes of protecting more people in Oklahoma.

"It gives more tools to the tribe while keeping the tribe in control of the future," said Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill.

Related Story: Federal Bill Would Allow For Criminal Jurisdiction Compact Between Oklahoma, 2 Tribes

Congressman Tom Cole (OK-4) will introduce a bill that would give the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations power to give jurisdiction to Oklahoma in some criminal cases. 

It's in response to the recent Supreme Court ruling that said the state doesn't have jurisdiction to prosecute Native Americans and some major crimes committed on tribal land. This ruling has led to hundreds of cases being dismissed by the state and many picked up by the federal and tribal courts.

"We need more options," said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. "We need the ability to do what we've done so well for so many years which is cooperate and work cooperatively with the state of Oklahoma."

Hoskin Jr. said since last summer's ruling, their tribe has picked up 700 cases, but this bill would allow the state to prosecute even more. That could include giving the state power to prosecute crimes committed by non-tribal members on tribal land and those crimes that are past the statute of limitations.

"The interest we all have is public safety," Hoskin Jr. said. "The interest we all have is a blanket of protection over people."

The Muscogee Nation said it's still looking at the wording of the bill and wants to make sure it doesn't negatively impact funding or force tribes into compacts against their will.

Communications Director Alex Gerszewski for Attorney General Mike Hunter said they support the legislation if it "fixes current problems without creating new ones."

The other tribes not included in this legislation still have the option to work together with the state if they decide to later.

You can read the full statement from the Muscogee Nation below.

"We support every nation’s sovereignty and right to seek their own specific legislation affecting only them. We are reviewing the broad wording of this proposed act to understand its implications for not only the Muscogee Nation but all of Indian country. It is imperative that any bill that may be crafted, is done so in a way that does not create a perverse incentive for the federal government to withhold funding and force tribes into compacts against their will." -Jason Salsman, Director of Communications

You can read the full statement from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office below.

"We continue to support the concept of federal legislation to allow compacting to address issues arising from the McGirt decision. Like every piece of legislation, our support depends on the language and whether or not it fixes current problems without creating new ones. Our office will continue to engage with the tribes, state stakeholders, Congress and the administration to ensure that goal is met." - Communications Director Alex Gerszewski