Tribal groups warn Inhofe bill could undermine sovereignty
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Legislation being discussed by some members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation to address a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision threatens to undermine tribal sovereignty, several Native American groups warned in a letter this week to Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe.
The leaders of eight separate tribal organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians and the Association on American Indian Affairs, wrote to Inhofe on Thursday outlining their concerns.
“It has come to our attention that staff members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation have formed a working group with the ostensible purpose of establishing, in a matter of weeks, proposed legislation to abrogate the tribal sovereignty upheld by the Supreme Court in its July 9, 2020 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma,” the letter states. “We fear that any such bill could irreparably undermine the sovereignty of tribal nations across the country.”
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in that case determined that a large swath of eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian reservation and that state prosecutors lack the authority to pursue certain criminal cases with American Indian defendants or victims in parts of Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, the state’s second largest city.
Since the decision was handed down, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma said his office is experiencing a “tidal wave” of new criminal cases.
Inhofe, the senior member of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation, said in a statement Friday the concern of the Native American groups is misplaced.
“As I’ve said from day one – the entire delegation agrees and has said that some action will need to be taken in response to McGirt,” Inhofe said. “We don’t know yet what that will be. That’s why the delegation is working together with the tribes and all Oklahomans to understand the scope and impact of the McGirt decision.”