The McGirt decision was a victory for all of Indian country. The Cherokee Nation is now committed to addressing new challenges created by the decision while preserving our rights and land.
On July 9, 2020, the Supreme Court’s McGirt v. Oklahoma decision and subsequent state rulings recognized that the Cherokee Nation reservation had not been disestablished, and therefore the tribe retains its constitutional, sovereign authority on its land. Now, the Cherokee Nation is hard at work to protect sovereignty in the wake of this historic decision, while fighting for the public safety, infrastructure, health and economic needs of everyone living on its reservation.
McGirt recognized that for over a century the state of Oklahoma had illegally acted outside of its jurisdiction by prosecuting cases on tribal land that should have been in tribal or federal court. After decades of the suppression of their justice systems, tribes are now working to expand their capacity and resources to ensure victims are supported, offenders are prosecuted, and public safety is upheld.
As part of these efforts, the Cherokee Nation is working closely with municipalities and local law enforcement agencies to ensure they continue to have the resources needed to protect public safety and deliver critical services. To handle expanded case workloads, the Cherokee Nation has hired additional prosecutors, marshals, and other key staff and has invested in opening new courts. The tribe has also increased funding for its criminal justice system by millions of dollars to meet public safety-related obligations.
The Cherokee Nation continues to file new cases in tribal court at an unprecedented pace to ensure victims see justice and cases do not fall through the cracks and is working with the tribe’s federal partners as they do the same.
Alongside these public safety and criminal justice efforts, the Cherokee Nation is also committed to meeting the diverse needs of its people while working closely with its partners in local, state and federal leadership. Successes range from investing in water infrastructure in partnership with municipal governments, to unprecedented expansions in the tribal health system, to initiatives that encourage Cherokee language-learning and ensure the tribe’s history and heritage never fade.
Unfortunately, the McGirt decision did not put an end to attacks on tribal rights and the Cherokee Nation’s sovereignty. Almost immediately after the ruling, Oklahoma’s governor joined anti-tribal advocates in attempts to roll back these rights, wasting time and taxpayer resources on endless legal battles instead of working with tribes to meet shared challenges. While efforts to overturn McGirt have failed thus far, in 2022 these attacks culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta decision, which overturned precedent and undermined congressional authority by expanding state criminal jurisdiction on tribal land.
Despite disagreeing with the Castro-Huerta decision, the Cherokee Nation continues to advocate for collaboration between state and tribal officials as the best path forward. However, the Nation will always defend the rights of its people and continues to fight for its sovereignty against ongoing legal and political attacks.