Cherokee Nation Chief Hoskin In D.C. Laying Groundwork For Changes To Major Crimes Act

The Cherokee Nation continues to move forward with an effort to tweak the federal law that determines jurisdiction in many major crimes involving Native Americans, and that effort took the tribe's leader to the nation's capital this week.

Thursday, April 4th 2024, 6:34 pm

By: News 9, News On 6


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The Cherokee Nation continues to move forward with an effort to tweak the federal law that determines jurisdiction in many major crimes involving Native Americans, and that effort took the tribe's leader to the nation's capital this week.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. says this is about equality: he wants the Major Crimes Act, which was originally passed in 1885, to be updated so that it treats descendants of Cherokee Freedmen the same as those who are Cherokee by blood.

"With the federal government," said Chief Hoskin in an interview Wednesday, "there’s a real gap."

Hoskin says the Cherokee Nation closed that gap three years ago. After decades of resistance from previous leadership, the tribe agreed to recognize the descendants of Black people it had once enslaved as full citizens. Now, he's hoping the Department of Justice will back his effort to change how federal law determines tribal membership, or at least cede that authority to Native sovereigns.

"We didn’t have any commitment from them," Hoskin said, in describing his meetings with DOJ and Interior, "we were really just coming to educate them, but the good news is they were well-versed in the issue."

The issue is that in the Major Crimes Act, which puts major violent crimes committed by Native Americans in Native territory under federal jurisdiction, the test for tribal membership is a blood quantum, meaning those Cherokees who are citizens through Freedman descendants, are not covered by the law.

Hoskin says the simple solution is to leave it to each Tribe to determine the requirement for membership. "I think the way to achieve real certainty and clarity is by changing the statute," Hoskin said, very simply, just saying, if you are a citizen or a member of an Indian Nation, that’s where the analysis really begins and ends."

Hoskin says there are two potential paths for getting the law changed: going through the courts or going through Congress. He believes the best results for all would be achieved by getting Congress to amend the law.

"That’s going to be a tough road ahead," U.S. Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) said in an interview. Mullin, a Cherokee citizen himself, worries the proposed fix would alienate other tribes.

"Without everyone agreeing to it, like the Chickasaws, the Choctaws, the Creeks, you aren’t going to be able to make changes on a standalone," Mullin stated.

Hoskin says he understands the concern but doesn't believe that will be a problem.

"I’ve made a commitment to many tribal leaders back home that nothing that we did in this would do injury to tribal sovereignty," Hoskin explained, "because this really is about respecting individual tribes' decisions about their citizenship."

Chief Hoskin says the language amending the Major Crimes Act should be very simple, and he expects to be back in Washington presenting it to the Oklahoma delegation in the next few months.

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