Supreme Court Rules That About Half Of Oklahoma Is Native American Land

“Today’s decision will allow the Nation to honor our ancestors by maintaining our established sovereignty and territorial boundaries.”

The US Supreme Court has ruled about half of Oklahoma belongs to Native Americans, in a landmark case that also quashed a child rape conviction.

The justices decided 5-4 that an eastern chunk of the state, including its second-biggest city, Tulsa, should be recognised as part of a reservation.

Jimcy McGirt, who was convicted in 1997 of raping a girl, brought the case.

He cited the historical claim of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to the land where the assault occurred.

What does the ruling mean?

July 2020 decision in McGirt v Oklahoma is seen as one of the most far-reaching cases for Native Americans before the highest US court in decades.

The ruling means some tribe members found guilty in state courts for offences committed on the land at issue can now challenge their convictions.

Only federal prosecutors will have the power to criminally prosecute Native Americans accused of crimes in the area.

Tribe members who live within the boundaries may also be exempt from state taxes, according to Reuters news agency.

Some 1.8 million people – of whom about 15% are Native American – live on the land, which spans three million acres.

How might Oklahoma’s criminal justice system be affected?

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the decision would destabilise the state’s courts.

He wrote: “The State’s ability to prosecute serious crimes will be hobbled and decades of past convictions could well be thrown out.

“The decision today creates significant uncertainty for the State’s continuing authority over any area that touches Indian affairs, ranging from zoning and taxation to family and environmental law.”

An analysis by The Atlantic magazine of Oklahoma Department of Corrections records found that 1,887 Native Americans were in prison as of the end of last year for offences committed within the boundaries of the tribal territory.

But fewer than one in 10 of those cases would qualify for a new federal trial, according to the research.

How did other tribal leaders react?

In a joint statement, the Five Tribes of Oklahoma – Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole and Muscogee Nation – welcomed the ruling.

“The Supreme Court today kept the United States’ sacred promise to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of a protected reservation,” the tribe said in a statement. “Today’s decision will allow the Nation to honor our ancestors by maintaining our established sovereignty and territorial boundaries.”

Here‘s the court’s decision

Source: BBC News

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