The Supreme Court has declared that nearly half of Oklahoma is an Indian reservation. And after?

The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling reverberated across the state on Friday – with government officials, legal experts and activists saying the case will have complicated legal ramifications in tribal disputes for decades to come.

Experts have said Native Americans arrested for major crimes on Indian lands belonging to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation must now be prosecuted federally, and dozens of convicted felons may seek to have their convictions overturned.

“It’s going to have a huge effect,” Slane said. “You’re going to see other Indians making the same argument in federal court – all over Oklahoma and across the country.”

Critics, attorneys like Slane and other legal experts argue the ruling could also impact the state’s civil matters, such as taxation, zoning or custody battles.

“People may still be a bit in shock trying to figure out the implications of this,” said Lindsay Robertson of the Center for the Study of American Indian Law and Policy at the University of Oklahoma. “People are wondering who has the authority to tax, who is the zoning authority now, and if I’m going to sue someone, do I have to file in tribal court or state court?”

Native American leaders sought to allay these fears. They pointed to a statement released just after the decision by state Attorney General Mike Hunter and the five affected tribes – Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole – announcing that both parties had made “substantial progress towards a agreement” to be submitted to Congress and the Department of Justice in the coming months which would establish a “shared jurisdiction framework” in the future.

“This is a monumental decision, but it’s important to let citizens in the general public know that this doesn’t mean the sky is falling on us,” said Chuck Hoskin Jr., the leader of the Cherokee Nation, the largest tribe of the United States. “There is no immediate impact beyond criminal jurisdiction. This raises questions, but they are not insurmountable. There should be no instability or uncertainty in our judicial or regulatory system. These are things that can be fixed. »

The state also appeared to be looking to Congress for action following the ruling that Congress, not the courts, had the power to modify treaty agreements and change the boundaries of reservations.

Gov. Kevin Stitt (right) said Thursday that state officials are still trying to determine whether the decision only affects the prosecution of crimes or goes beyond that scope.

“All of these questions that no one really knows at this point,” Stitt said. “It’s a federal issue. This is something that Congress needs to address, to set some parameters to see exactly how we are supposed to handle this.

The decision hinged on the case of an Oklahoma man, Jimcy McGirt, a Native American who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison after raping a 4-year-old child in 1996. McGirt’s lawyers had argued that the state had no power to prosecute him because the crime occurred on the Creek Reservation, established in a treaty with the federal government after Native Americans were forcibly moved to “Indian Country” in 1833.

“Today we are asked whether the land promised by these treaties remains an Indian reservation for the purposes of federal criminal law,” wrote Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, a conservative Trump appointee, in the majority opinion, which referred to the broken promises the U.S. government made to Native Americans go all the way back to the Trail of Tears. “Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”

Native Americans and their allies celebrated the decision with the hashtag #NativeLivesMatter and said they hoped future court rulings would be shaped by the country’s current period of self-reflection on race and steps taken to redress the historical wrongs.

“The country is more eager to have a conversation about institutional and systemic racism, and when state and local governments infringe on tribal sovereignty, that’s racism,” said Aila Hoss, a law professor at the University of Tulsa and Indian law expert.

Hoss said the primary impact of the court ruling would be on Indian defendants convicted of major crimes by the state, raising questions about whether the case should be retried in federal court.

While the state had argued that this could mean the cancellation of hundreds of cases, a review by the Atlantic came to a different conclusion. An analysis of about 300 of the 1,887 Native Americans imprisoned in Oklahoma late last year for crimes in tribal territory showed that only about 10% would be eligible for a new trial.

Concerns about the scope of the decision beyond criminal prosecution were greatly exaggerated, Hoss argued, because tribes have very limited civil jurisdiction over nonmembers.

Yet in the dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. warned, “In this broad area, the state’s ability to prosecute serious crimes will be fettered and decades of past convictions may well be overturned.” . On top of that, the Court has profoundly destabilized the governance of eastern Oklahoma.

“Today’s decision creates significant uncertainty for the state’s continued authority over any area that affects Indian affairs, ranging from zoning and taxation to family and environmental law.”

Dewey Bartlett, a former mayor of Tulsa who runs his family oil business, said he thinks many Oklahoma business owners in the oil and gas or ranching industries might fear the victory won’t end. encourages tribes to take future legal action to limit water or mineral rights or to avoid state regulators.

“I don’t think people in Tulsa woke up today thinking they were living on an Indian reservation, but ultimately they might be worried that this position might be taken,” Bartlett said. “It’s very worrying.”

Nohemi M. Moore