McAlester News-Capital

McAlester News-Capital office

Politicians need to stop politicizing the McGirt decision.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and a panel staged an event last week to explain how and where victims in criminal cases impacted by the McGirt decision could find answers — but protestors exercised their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and jeered the panel before the governor abruptly ended the event.

Choctaw Nation officials told us they weren't invited and believe Native American representation on the panel could have gone a long way toward making progress.

“Solutions and answers cannot be provided without input from stakeholders,” Choctaw Nation officials told us.

We agree.

District 27 District Attorney Jack Thorp told the Tahlequah Daily Press, another CNHI newspaper, that the forum was "a waste of time" and a "travesty." Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the forum was "an anti-McGirt rally for political reasons."

We also agree with those statements because solutions could not be reached without meaningful invitations to Native American nation leaders nor any meaningful Native American representation on the panel.

Stitt said DAs are concerned for all Oklahomans. Of course they are — but that statement is dismissive of the entire Native population in the state which was negatively impacted by a wrong interpretation the Supreme Court corrected with its McGirt decision.

A Supreme Court ruling in July 2020 found Congress never disestablished the reservation status of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in eastern Oklahoma. That means cases involving Native Americans fall under tribal and federal jurisdiction as per the 1885 Major Crimes Act.

All five Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals judges ruled in April that the McGirt decision also applies to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole nations.

Stitt’s strongly-voiced opposition to the McGirt ruling and recently sued the Interior Department over its expansion of the decision. Native American nation leaders praise the McGirt decision as a win for tribal sovereignty.

The disagreement between the two on the McGirt decision — plus gaming compacts and a litany of other disagreements — is probably why tribal leaders say they weren't invited to the forum.

Stitt's office maintains it contacted tribal representatives. Choctaw Nation officials said they did not receive an invite.

The miscommunication epitomizes the divide between the sides. Lack of Native American representation on the panel embodies the state's over-politicization of the issue.

Like with any change, the McGirt decision comes with challenges and questions that have yet to be answered.

But the McGirt decision is correct — and leads us toward righting a more-than-a-century-old wrong.

District 18 District Attorney Chuck Sullivan said he believes the McGirt decision will not be overturned — but he's been against it from the beginning because of some issues it presents.

Sullivan told us his office is communicating with the Choctaw Nation and the US District Attorney’s Office to make sure cases don’t get lost in the shuffle.

We applaud those district attorneys working toward justice as ruled upon by the Supreme Court in the McGirt decision.

Victims and their families deserve justice no matter which court is granted jurisdiction.

What they don't deserve is the circus because it doesn't bring us any closer to solutions — nor bringing justice.

So we urge politicians to stop over-politicizing the McGirt decision and start working with tribal leaders to find answers and a path forward together.

• McAlester News-Capital Editorial Board

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