Inter-Tribal Council McGirt decision

July 14, 2021

Tulsa, Okla. – The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes (ITC) met July 9 in its first in-person general session since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The session also marked the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which affirmed the Muscogee Nation reservation was never disestablished and its treaty territory remains Indian Country for purposes of criminal jurisdiction.

The ruling has since been applied to the territories of each of the Five Tribes.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing, and the Supreme Court did,” said Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill. “We are still here. We will fight to protect our sovereignty.”

The ITC passed a resolution urging Congress to allocate additional resources directly to tribal governments for McGirt response.

Other tribal leaders joined Chief Hill in discussing the historic decision and affirmed their commitment to devoting resources toward their criminal justice systems.

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said the Chickasaw Nation has prepared to meet the increased duties responsibly.

“Over a year ago, we formed a task force to analyze the situation and developed a comprehensive plan to meet these important new responsibilities,” said Governor Anoatubby. “For years, we have worked closely in partnerships with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to serve residents of our area, and this will continue to increase with the McGirt and Bosse rulings.”

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said the Tribe continues to maintain law and order.

“The sky is not falling. There’s not a person who has been released that has not gone through our court system or who has not been prosecuted for the crime that has been done,” said Chief Batton. “We are responsible. We are stepping up.”

Tribal leaders spoke about efforts underway to put resources into expanding and strengthening their criminal justice systems, and renewing partnerships with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

“The McGirt decision was about the United States keeping a promise, and this country is a great country and ought to keep its promise. The promises of the Five Tribes that our reservations have always been intact, needed to be kept,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., who serves as ITC President. “We started working on the impact of the McGirt ruling and opportunities presented even before the court decision was handed down. And now, a year later, we are well on our way to expanding and building the best criminal justice system – one that is respectful and protects the victims, one that is fair to defendants and one that takes people who must be incarcerated and finds a way, if they can, to bring them back into society.”

Riyaz Kanji, a partner at Kanji & Katzen PLLC who represented the Muscogee Nation at the Supreme Court, appeared at the meeting through video and said being involved in the case was one of the greatest professional privileges of his lifetime.

The meeting was hosted by the Muscogee Nation July 9 at the River Spirit Casino Resort in Tulsa and marked the first time the ITC has met in-person since January 2020. Meetings have been hosted virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tribal leaders detailed their scientifically-based reopening efforts as they move forward with recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re still continuing our vaccinations, and we’re enjoying our recovery and restoration,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby.

Principal Chief Hoskin said the tribes have led the way in the recovery from the pandemic.

“We have been the leaders in this country in responding to COVID and in recovering from COVID,” he said.

Indian Health Service (IHS) Oklahoma City Area Director Rear Adm. Travis Watts said vaccinations performed by the tribes present at the July 9 meeting represented more than 60% of the 360,000 vaccinations performed by IHS.

He said although the delta variant is highly transmissible, he is confident the tribes are moving forward carefully with reopening and recovery utilizing science and data.

Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland appeared virtually at the meeting to update tribal leaders on the Biden administration’s efforts to ensure Indian Country has a voice in the administration.

Lt. Governor of Oklahoma Matt Pinnell appeared virtually and spoke to tribal leaders about tourism initiatives in Oklahoma.

The ITC passed multiple resolutions at the meeting, including:

  • A resolution urging Congress to allocate additional resources for McGirt response and urging Congress to allocate resources directly to tribal governments
  • A resolution supporting federal and state efforts to address the murdered and missing Indigenous peoples’ crisis
  • A resolution urging Congress to swiftly pass S. 1402, the Durbin Feeling Native American Languages Act of 2021
  • A resolution urging Congress to pass H.R. 1884, the Save Oak Flat Act
  • A resolution supporting teaching the complex history of tribal nations and the United States
  • A resolution supporting the president’s FY2022 Indian Health Service Budget Request