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McGirt v. Oklahoma could have lasting implications

Map of tribal jurisdictions in Oklahoma. (Courtesy: Oklahoma Dept. of Transportation){p}{/p}
Map of tribal jurisdictions in Oklahoma. (Courtesy: Oklahoma Dept. of Transportation)

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In a major Supreme Court decision Thursday, justices decided that a large swath of land, including part of Tulsa, is still an American Indian reservation.

Tribal members can no longer be prosecuted by the state for crimes that happen in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

It all began when Jimcy McGirt, sentenced to life in prison for serious sexual offenses, argued that the state didn't have the jurisdiction to prosecute him, because he's a member of the Seminole Nation and his crimes took place on the Creek reservation.

His case made its way to the Supreme Court.

The ruling on McGirt v. Oklahoma means others like him could argue the same.

The opinion, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, brings up an 1833 treaty making the land a permanent home for the Creek Nation.

Only Congress can end the treaty, which the opinion argues never happened.

That means Native American people who commit crimes on that land can only be prosecuted by tribal or federal courts.

“There are going to be people who get out of prison," said attorney David Slane. "There are people that are going to get turned loose, and there are going to be cases that are never going to get prosecuted. The statute of limitations is run, there’s problems, witnesses are gone, you now have to go re-prosecute people."

On the flip-side, Slane says some will get second chances.

The decision mostly impacts the criminal justice system.

No one will lose their land, but it could impact tax revenue.

“I think they may very well have a problem with that, because if this is a nation, an Indian nation or an Indian reservation, obviously the tribal government’s going to exercise some control over that," Slane said.

The State of Oklahoma, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and other major tribes released a joint statement saying they are working together on jurisdictional issues and say they plan to maintain public safety and economic prosperity.

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The statement says they also plan to ensure Jimcy McGirt and other violent offenders continue to face justice.

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