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
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • available in Gothic, CO for 2019 summer season - Manager, Lead Cooks, Prep-Cooks, Dishwasher - at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL). The Dining Hall...
  • Suitable for planting hay, hemp, fruit. Excellent water rights. 1800 square foot farmhouse, outbuildings, worker housing.
  • More information: jobs.wisc.edu. Search 96076
  • Friends of the Verde River is looking for someone to join our team who has a keen investigative mind and is an excellent communicator and...
  • - Thriving Indie bookstore in Durango, CO. 1800 sf of busy retail space in a 3100 sf historic building. Long term lease or option to...
  • with home on one acre in Pocatello, ID. For information and photos visit www.blackrockforgeproperty.com.
  • The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is seeking a technical partner to develop a land management plan for the 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears Landscape in southeastern...
  • Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • on 3 acres near Moxon. 3 bd/1.5 bath, apt. Views/access to hiking, fishing, wildlife.1-207-593-6312. $165,900.
  • Senior position responsible for the development of all marketing and fundraising strategies to grow the base of philanthropic support and awareness of GSEP.
  • This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • near Ennis, MT. Artist designed, 1900 SF, 2BR/2BA home on 11.6 acres with creek, tree, views, privacy. 406-570-9233 or [email protected] www.arrowreal.com (Country Homes).
  • Colorado Farm to Table is looking for a full-time energetic, creative Executive Director to lead our team in Salida.
  • Join HCN and Black Sheep Adventures on an expedition through the national parks and monuments of Utah and Southwest Colorado, September 7 - 15, 2019....