Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said "nothing's been signed" with the state of Oklahoma regarding jurisdictional questions after a recent Supreme Court decision — and he wants to ensure tribes don't lose sovereignty in continuing negotiations.
A recent Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma determined Congress never “disestablished” the reservation status of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which left questions about the sovereignty of the state's Five Tribes — The Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole Nations.
More questions arose after the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office announced an “agreement in principle” with the Five Tribes — only for tribal leaders from the Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Nations to say they agreed to nothing. Batton said in a video on the Choctaw Nation Facebook page that he doesn't want to rush into an agreement.
“Nothing has been set in stone," Batton said. "There are way more questions than answers — nothing's been signed, nothing's been given away."
“What often happens is the Supreme Court decision comes down and people have to decide what does it mean or how does it apply,” Batton said. “We are currently accessing the opportunities as well as the impact this will have on our tribal members and our nation.”
According to the AG’s office, the agreement in principle made “recommendations to Oklahoma’s congressional delegation “a set of principles that memorialize our shared position” in criminal jurisdiction, civil jurisdiction, and other general provisions with the goal of seeing the principles implemented in federal law “for purposes of enhancing and clarifying respective State and Tribal jurisdiction, both criminal and civil, without limiting the jurisdiction or immunities of either the State or any Nation.”
Since that announcement, two tribes, — The Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Nation, said they do not agree with the proposal.
The leaders of the other three tribes said in a joint statement that they respected the other two tribes decision and will continue to work with them on the issue of sovereignty.
Although the Supreme Court decision did not affect the Choctaw Nation, Batton said his office is already getting a lot of questions.
Batton said he has received numerous questions regarding taxes on tribal employees, who can issue speeding tickets to tribal members, who do tribal members call in an emergency.
“Already, we’re hearing stories of fire and police telling tribal members that can not assist them because they no longer have them in their jurisdiction,” Batton said.
The chief said clarity is needed so the reported incidents do not continue to happen.
“To end these questions, we need to slow down and look at all of the pros and cons of how this ruling will impact the Choctaw Nation for generations to come,” Batton said. “It is critical that we do this right to protect the sovereignty of our nation for the betterment of people.”
Batton said there is no rush for Congress to get involved to write federal legislation to help answer the many questions left unanswered following the McGirt decision.
“There is no reason to rush to pursue federal legislation at this time,” Batton said. “If federal legislation is presented, I’ll definitely be at the table to ensure that the interests of the Choctaw Nation and our people is heard.”
The chief also announced he will begin a video series next week on social media to update tribal citizens on the latest developments.
Batton said if any tribal member has any questions they would like to be answered in his videos, to either send the questions on the tribe’s Facebook page or to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’re blazing a new chapter in the story of our sovereignty,” Batton said. “We will continue to honor our ancestors and build a brighter future for all who come after us.”
Contact Derrick James at email@example.com