In Oklahoma, a death penalty case to test tribal sovereignty

The Supreme Court will now decide whether the reservations of five tribes still exist.

 

Indian Country News is a weekly note from NewTowncarShare News, as we continue to broaden our coverage of tribal affairs across the West.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take a death penalty case that .

In 2000, Patrick Murphy, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, was , also a Creek Nation member, and leaving his mutilated body on the side of a road in McIntosh County, Oklahoma. The murder itself has little to do with why this case is important to tribes. Murphy’s public defenders lost in a lower court, but , because the crime took place within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s tribal district and was between two tribal members.

All murder cases on tribal reservations are prosecuted in federal court. But Oklahoma does not have reservations. When Oklahoma became a state, in 1907, it absorbed tribal territories, which meant taking back the land recently given to the “Five Civilized Tribes”: the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole. In August, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that language dissolving those tribal lands for statehood was unclear, and thus the Creek Nation reservation still exists in some form.

If the Supreme Court sides with Murphy, it could have a huge impact on how state and federal prosecutors operate within the five tribes’ districts, which constitutes most of eastern Oklahoma, including the state’s second largest metropolis, Tulsa. If the court doesn’t side with Murphy, tribes worry it could be yet another blow to tribal sovereignty, the power of tribes to govern themselves. Also discouraging for tribes is the fact that Neil Gorsuch, the only sitting Supreme Court justice well-versed in Indian law, .

The case was previously heard in the 10th Circuit Court in Denver, Colorado.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in a statement he was pleased the court is taking up the case. “Our team is looking forward to presenting our side and providing clarity for the state, tribal sovereigns and the 1.8 million Oklahomans who live in the area at issue,” . He argues that the language dissolving the tribal reservations is clear, and to rule otherwise would overwhelm local prosecutors and disrupt the criminal justice system.

The energy industry is worried a change could have major ripple effects. The Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Agency, for example, , expressing concern it “will upend Oklahoma’s unified, statewide oil and gas regulatory regime and throw all economic activity in eastern Oklahoma — including the oil and gas industry — into turmoil, resulting in overlapping and duplicative regulation and severe uncertainty.”

Conversely, in a similar case still pending before the Supreme Court, , the 10th Circuit ruled against the tribe. If the Supreme Court accepts that case, the court could potentially decide whether Congress “clearly intended in 1905 to diminish the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, home to the Eastern Shoshone Tribe.”

The Supreme Court affirmed tribal sovereignty over land in Indian Country , when it declined to hear a challenge to the boundaries of the Omaha Tribe’s reservation by a town that sought to challenge a tribal tax on the sale of alcohol. No matter the outcome of Murphy’s challenge to his murder conviction, the implications could spread outside of Oklahoma. Whether that means tribal sovereignty will be strengthened or take another blow remains to be seen.

Wado.

Graham Lee Brewer is a contributing editor at NewTowncarShare News and a member of the Cherokee Nation.

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • in Southwest Colorado. $60K plus costs.
  • with six+ years of experience, broad knowledge of home and facilities maintenance. 207-805-4157, https://spark.adobe.com/page/8R7Ag/
  • Seeking full-time experienced farmer on 52-acre organic farm Union, OR. [email protected]
  • Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Government Affairs Manager that is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to support...
  • Metal roofing & siding, thru-fastened & seam profiles. Stronger, more attractive and longer lasting than any other panel on the market. 970-275-4070.
  • The Central Colorado Conservancy, a nationally accredited and state certified land trust, is seeking an innovative and dynamic Executive Director to guide the Conservancy into...
  • National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time, Lake Tahoe West Senior Project Lead. Position is responsible for working with the National Forest Foundation (NFF) to...
  • Forever Our Rivers Foundation seeks a driven and creative individual to lead this national movement for river health. Deadline 6/14/19.
  • We are looking for an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry, specifically focused on fighting fossil fuel expansion...
  • 7/12-7/14/19 in Taos, NM. With over 21 workshops and keynote speaker, poet Arthur Sze.
  • Badlands Conservation Alliance is seeking an Executive Director. For job description visit https://www.badlandsconservationalliance.org/hiring.
  • NewTowncarShare News seeks a development assistant to help with fundraising campaigns. Strong candidates will have experience administering development programs, communicating with donors, and working...
  • Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • Camping, hiking, backpacking, R2R2R, Tarahumara Easter, Mushroom Festival, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • Clean off, cool off & drink. Multiple spray patterns. Better than you imagine. Try it.
  • Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...