While a little over a year has passed since the United States Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, the Chickasaw Nation began to prepare years earlier.
In 2017, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in Murphy v. Royal that the Muscogee Creek reservation had never been removed and that its treaty territory remained an Indian country for purposes of criminal jurisdiction.
Understanding the potential for significant changes in its criminal justice functions should the decision be upheld by the Supreme Court, the Chickasaw Nation leadership team began planning to fulfill these additional functions in a responsible manner.
In McGirt, therefore, the Court held, under existing law, that Oklahoma did not have criminal jurisdiction for crimes involving Indians committed on the Muscogee Creek reservation. Rather, jurisdiction over these crimes rests with the Muscogee Nation and the United States. The convict in that case successfully challenged his conviction and sentence in state court, but has since been charged, retried and re-sentenced in federal court and now resides in a federal penitentiary.
On March 11, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeal applied the McGirt decision to the Chickasaw Nation and found that the Chickasaw Nation Treaty Territory also constitutes a reserve under federal law.
The decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal means that the federal rules granting criminal jurisdiction in the Indian country apply in the Treaty Territory of the Chickasaw Nation as they do in the Muscogee Creek Nation. Oklahoma has said it will seek to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court as part of its efforts to challenge McGirt. In the meantime, the Chickasaw Nation remains focused on implementing the law as it stands and protecting the sovereignty of the Chickasaw Nation.
On the same day the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeal ruled, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby issued an executive proclamation confirming the Chickasaw Nation Treaty Territory as “Indian country” for purposes of the tribal law.
His proclamation ordered all officials, employees, officers, departments, commissions and agencies of the Executive Department of the Chickasaw Nation to act in accordance with the ruling and “a sovereign interest in public safety throughout our homeland from treaty”.
Within the Executive Department, these tasks are primarily the responsibility of Lighthorse Police and the Office of Tribal Justice Administration. Governor Anoatubby also continued to work closely with the leaders of the legislative and judicial departments of the Chickasaw Nation Government to ensure the proper implementation of the responsibilities of the tribe.
While last year’s rulings extended public safety responsibilities from approximately 280 square miles of land held in trust or restricted status to all of the 7,648 square miles of Chickasaw Nation treaty land. , the representatives of the Chickasaw Nation had worked for a long time to ensure that they were ready for the changes.
“Our executive, legislative and judicial departments in the Chickasaw Nation continue to exercise due diligence as we accept this new duty responsibly,” Governor Anoatubby wrote in his proclamation. “We have improved our penal code, expanded our justice system, and strengthened our relationships with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to ensure law and order are maintained in the Chickasaw Nation.”
The Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department has added a dozen law enforcement professionals to its force, which now numbers 77 officers. Since the confirmation of the Chickasaw Nation reserve in mid-March and through August 1, Chickasaw Lighthorse has responded to 15,728 calls for help and made 1,037 arrests on more than 1,663 charges . Meanwhile, law enforcement and tribal prosecutors have filed 678 criminal cases and 145 trafficking tickets in the Chickasaw Nation Tribal Court. The ministry remains focused on public safety and upholding the Chickasaw Nation’s responsibilities under the law.
In this work, the Chickasaw Nation Cross-Delegation Law Enforcement Agreements are an essential tool. The Chickasaw Nation currently has 67 cross-delegation agreements with law enforcement agencies and non-tribal police departments throughout their reservation. These agreements concern 499 non-commissioned officers. We are continually working to expand and deepen these relationships.
Beginning last fall, the Chickasaw Nation Tribal Legislature reviewed and updated much of the nation’s penal code, and that work continues. Newly enacted legislation allows Chickasaw Lighthorse and prosecutors to rely on elements of Oklahoma criminal laws to ensure consistency in tribal prosecution and law enforcement. Other more substantial reforms focus on specific subjects or procedural matters designed to improve the functioning of the criminal justice system.
More recently, the Chickasaw Nation has established a helpline for victims of crime and their families. Designed to provide information and connect victims with supportive programs and services, the new hotline is also an important source of real-time information for Chickasaw Nation law enforcement. .
In all of the Chickasaw Nation’s efforts on these matters, Governor Anoatubby emphasizes the value of deepening cooperation across jurisdictional boundaries. With the best interests of the Chickasaw Nation and the Chickasaw people in mind, Governor Anoatubby has prioritized intergovernmental cooperation between the nation, Oklahoma, local jurisdictions, and the United States.
“We live and work in larger communities, and what affects one of us tends to affect all of us,” Governor Anoatubby said. “Working effectively with federal, state and local police and prosecution agencies helps ensure that those affected by the criminal justice system, both victims and perpetrators, have access to the services they may need to restore their lives or get their lives back on track. “
Part of this work includes the continued efforts of the Chickasaw Nation to expand opportunities for intergovernmental cooperation.
“Our goal is to develop and implement comprehensive policies to preserve public safety, maintain law and order, and improve the overall quality of life for Chickasaw and all Oklahomans,” said Governor Anoatubby. “We have a long history of working with Oklahoma to address common challenges and develop solutions that benefit everyone in Oklahoma.
“Given our history, we believe we can better serve all people in Oklahoma by working together in a way that respects tribal, state and federal sovereignty.”