Appeals Court rules ‘Indian Country’ in Oklahoma means Tulsa can’t enforce laws on Native Americans

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A recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit means that if a member of any American Indian tribe in Tulsa, Oklahoma wishes to drive 100 miles-per-hour inside a 20-mph school zone, they can do so without worrying about getting a ticket. In fact, American Indians apparently are not subject to any municipal law within some parts of the city.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the City of Tulsa lacks the jurisdiction to prosecute a Native American man who was cited for speeding on a Tulsa street.

The court’s ruling stems from a Supreme Court decision in 2020 that determined that parts of Tulsa are located within the boundaries of an Indian reservation that had never been disestablished, thus falling under the jurisdiction of tribal law for tribal members rather than municipal law for everyone in the city.

It’s a case that could have legal implications inside the City of Juneau, where there is one parcel of land that Tlingit-Haida has deeded to the federal government as “Indian Country,” and another in Craig, also in Southeast Alaska.

The Oklahoma case involves Justin Hooper, a member of the Choctaw Nation, who was cited for speeding by Tulsa police in 2018. Although Hooper paid the $150 ticket at the time, he later filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s jurisdiction over the offense. Hooper’s attorneys argued that the speeding violation occurred within the historic boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, rendering it Indian Country and placing it under tribal jurisdiction. Several other tribes filed amicus briefs on Hooper’s behalf, including the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Quapaw, and Seminole nations.

Even though Hooper is Choctaw, he is covered by Muscogee Nation law, the ruling says.

The City of Tulsa contended that the Curtis Act, a federal law passed in 1898, granted the city jurisdiction over municipal violations committed by anyone in its city limits.

However, the appeals court rejected this argument, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma. The Supreme Court ,in that case, had ruled that approximately 40% of Oklahoma remains an Indian reservation because it was never formally disestablished by Congress. The McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling essentially shrank the State of Oklahoma’s boundaries by 40%.

The Muscogee Nation, in its brief supporting Native Americans being not subject to municipal or state law in Indian Country, said that without congressional approval, “neither states nor their political subdivisions have jurisdiction over crimes involving Indian defendants committed within the boundaries of an Indian reservation.”

Tulsa officials argued that that the result of a ruling in Hooper’s favor is “a system where municipal laws would only apply to some inhabitants, but not others, depending on a complex algorithm with variables based on tribal membership of a defendant as well as discrete geographies within the City limits. Such a system is clearly more ‘unworkable’ and ‘counterintuitive’ than a clear system where all inhabitants of the City are treated equally for municipal violations.”

The 10th Circuit judges said they could not take the practicality of such an unworkable patchwork of laws into account “even if Tulsa proves correct that reversing the district court’s decision will lead to disruption.”

Tulsa and other municipal courts within the boundaries of Indian reservations must now defer to tribal law when it comes to prosecuting Native Americans for offenses, the ruling says.

Gov. Kevin Stitt spoke about the case last week while addressing his veto of certain Tribal Compacts.

“We want everybody to be successful. I just don’t believe in saying, ‘This group doesn’t have to play by the same set of rules as everybody else. It has nothing against sovereignty. We’ve all been working together since 1907. Let’s keep working together, but let’s not have one set of rules that favors one group over another.”

Stitt’s office also released a statement indicating that this case will now be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court: “I am extremely disappointed and disheartened by the decision made by the Tenth Circuit to undermine the City of Tulsa and the impact it would have on their ability to enforce laws within their municipality. However, I am not surprised as this is exactly what I have been warning Oklahomans about for the past three years. Citizens of Tulsa, if your city government cannot enforce something as simple as a traffic violation, there will be no rule of law in eastern Oklahoma. This is just the beginning. It is plain and simple, there cannot be a different set of rules for people solely based on race. I am hopeful that the United States Supreme Court will rectify this injustice, and the City of Tulsa can rest assured my office will continue to support them as we fight for equality for all Oklahomans, regardless of race or heritage.”

Traditional Choctaw boundaries before McGirt v. Oklahoma, vs. Indian Country established by the 2020 decision.

The Choctaw Nation is the third-largest Native American nation in the United States, with more than 212,000 tribal members and 12,000-plus associates, according to the tribe. Its historic boundaries are in the southeast corner of Oklahoma.

The legal difficulties of the 2020 decision were predicted by many. In 2021, Congress set aside $70 million in additional funding for the U.S. Justice Department to specifically take on the load of justice in 40% of Oklahoma, although at the time Congress did not consider the need for federal law enforcement within Tulsa. The prediction was that the FBI would have to investigate another 7,500 Indian-related cases in the state after McGirt v Oklahoma. Another $10 million was appropriated to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

59 COMMENTS

  1. Washington State has a patchwork of tribal lands and reservations. Most of the larger tribes have their own accredited police departments and reciprocity agreements with neighboring non tribal departments. This allows any member department to enter other jurisdictions to lend assistance, or in the case of exigent circumstances such as a pursuit, to enter without prior approval. Seems to work.

  2. “……..It’s a case that could have legal implications inside the City of Juneau, where there is one parcel of land that Tlingit-Haida has deeded to the federal government as “Indian Country,” and another in Craig, also in Southeast Alaska……….”
    While there is little muni/city issue yet with Chickaloon, there eventually will be. That group/family has been on the political warpath for decades in their quest for power. They’ve had lots of success, too.

      • Eklutna has already begun flexing its political muscle. They’ve forced questionable work on Eklutna Creek and are currently seeking “restitution” from Anchorage and/or Alaska for federal sins, knowing full well that Washington isn’t going to pay them off.

  3. Oh joy! We not only have to worry about the only indian reservation in Metlakatla, but now native townsite lands and native allotments in Alaska have the potential to be excluded from State, City, Municipality, Town, Village law.

    “Through the Venetie decision in 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that village and regional corporation land is not Indian country, even if it is transferred from a Native corporation to a tribe. However, the Court mentioned that Alaska Native townsite lands and allotments may be Indian country. If so, this pattern of Indian country in Alaska is potentially significant, although very sporadic. It is hard to say how a confirmation of restricted townsite lots and Native allotments as Indian country will play out in terms of the practicality of exercising tribal jurisdiction over it.” (see above MRAK article for a preview).

    Going to be real interesting times where State Law enforcement will not apply to “Indian Country”.

  4. This isn’t new. For decades now, tribal police had no jurisdiction over non tribal members. They could pull you over and ticket you, but it wasn’t enforceable. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

  5. Down in the lower 48, attempted genocide on those native Americans people, I’m glad they are getting sovereign rights.
    ‘https://www.history.com/news/native-americans-genocide-united-states

    • You go right ahead and hang your head in shame all you want, Jimbob, but the the arrival of White people with Western civilization is the best thing that ever happened for them and you frantically waving around your pompoms around in support of a race-based two-tiered legal system is loathsome.

      Just sayin’.

  6. American Indians ARE citizens. They can vote and have all of the other rights of citizens yet they remain exempt from some taxes, are permitted to operate casinos in violation of state laws and get special hunting rights among other things. It’s long past time to end systemic racism in America once and for all.

  7. Here, as in far too many other twisted examples of American Indian / Alaska native sovereignties and preferences, “the law is an ass – an idiot” (“Oliver Twist:” Dickens). The obvious and best solution to such imbroglios is prompt, corrective federal legislation. But we observe that the U.S. Congress, too, is an ass (our fault as voters), so we can hardly look for help from that branch of government. Good luck to Tulsa – and to all of us – in the U.S. Supreme Court. I cannot wait to read Justice Jackson’s minority opinion.

    • “imbroglios….” ?
      Cut that out! ….haven’t finished my coffee yet & I have to look up a hard word already.

    • Congress shall make no law impinging rights. So if Congress is expressly not granted US federal authority to create impinging liberty authority just devise some foreign corporation/real estate agency, registered in the City of London????to do it far you? Interesting work around theory. Is it new?

  8. The current Equal weight and measure was used. But the Native offender is still wrong for speeding. Even an abuser knows which weight and measure is being used to judge an offender, when he grown up watching non tribal members couldn’t be prosecuted by tribal police on a reservation. I’m sure after this case, some lawyers and legislation will make some law where this offense can’t go unpunished by such an abuser.

    • Apples and nuts comparison again. The admiralty/British stare decisis cases rests upon the fact scenario of using the King’s Highway as a commercial driver moving products of and for commerce. If you are a private traveler use your best judgment, eh? However, is it no longer fanciful to assume we are located upon a separate continent, America, and American (not British) Common Law supercedes? If so, if you are not the defendant, prosecutor nor paying legal fees nor expenses nor receiving a settlement nor a party to to the matter in any way at all the stare decisis decision you may have attempted to mention may have no effect upon you nor guidance upon your stirrup situation which is highly off topic anyway today; BUT, thank you for sharing the blessed scenario with us all anyways.

  9. This is headed to SCOTUS.

    This is just separate but unequal all over again. It will make Tulsa ungovernable.

    • Why? This is unique. Natives just getting back what was taken from them……the right to govern themselves, with a little reparation money thrown in. It’s the white thing to do.

      • Actually, Greg, the White thing to do was to bring civilization to a bunch of stone age practitioners of slavery, incest, and animism who didn’t even have the wheel nor literacy right up until those very same civilizing White folks showed up to rescue the hapless primitives from their backwardness and their nasty practices.

        The notion that some misty-eyed butt-hurt goofs, pining for the loss of the stone age, backward times of their recent ancestors as they continue to stagger through life with their hands out trying to shake down the rest of us alleging some imaginary race-based debt exists is an absurdity and an affront to decency.

        But of course you already knew that, Greg. There’s just no free money in admitting that you’re much better off than your forebears, right?

        • Why not let us evolve naturally, instead of killing off most of us and squatting on the land? Let’s not play around with words. It was about wealth and power. Like I said…..the white thing to do.

          • Is it really that difficult for you to admit that Western civilization is the best thing that ever could have happened for the various natives of today, that governmental participation in race-based transfers of wealth and the provision of race-based privileges are grossly un-American, and that nobody owes you nor any of the rest of the serial moochers you cry about anything at all, Greg?

  10. It’ll be very interesting how this could play out in CBJ.

    The more progressive the person, the more bigoted they are. And our ruling elite are quite progressive. They make big talk about “native lands”, but at the end of the day, it’s just talk.

    The Juneau (de facto) Junta isn’t gonna take kindly to having to actually deal with natives. Why? They really don’t like them.

  11. Could be a blessing in disguise for AK.
    Villages are, Federally speaking, Native allotment & Native town sites.
    Let’s totally co-operate w/ this at the State level
    Then have the Feds take over the schools, roads & policing
    The Feds already cover health care, airports, Headstart, water/sewer (not all villages, but most)
    Let’s have them pay the cops & teachers too.
    More $ from DC to AK = a win for Alaska (perhaps)

  12. Will America be a better place with a multitude of different classes each with a different set of rules and eligibility for entitlements?

    I dont think so.
    This is all a result of the left yelling Equity Equal rights and fairness to all during His inaugural address to the Nation that has become more divided than the great wall in china.

    MAPA=Make Americans Poor Again

  13. If select individuals refuse to obey the laws that we willfully abide by to keep the communities safe can we refuse other services to the same individuals that keep everyone safe? Police protection Fire and Ambulance services Medical Dental Food stamps Welfare..Its a long list

  14. Plenary meaning is absolute or total. The federal government has a duty to protect tribes, the trust relationship. Congress has the authority. There are 229 tribal governments aka nations in Alaska. Are Native corporations tribes too?

    Alaska is a mandatory P.L. 280 State. Congress ceded jurisdiction to the State of Alaska. The Alaska Attorney General has jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute criminal (and some civil) crimes committed within the whole State of Alaska except Metlakatla which is a reservation.

    Sovereign immunity within the tribal government/tribal entity in Alaska doesn’t always protect victims. In written communication dated 2/9/2023 from AG Taylor he wrote that the DOL is not equipped to handle my request. An Alaska attorney and Tribal Judge wrote that there is no federal, tribal or state court that would hear a complaint of major violations of my (and other tribal citizens) constitutional and Indian civil rights that was filed correctly and on time.

    Southeast Alaska Regional Health Corporation (SEARHC) Juneau, State of Alaska v Jeffrey Fultz who worked at SEARHC Juneau. ‘https://www.ktoo.org/2021/06/14/seven-women-accuse-former-searhc-doctor-of-sexual-abuse/ Matthew Ione said in the news article “…doesn’t tolerate assault, harassment or offensive behavior.”

    Victims at SEARHC Sitka have complained about sexual harassment and offensive behaviors for years. SEARHC Sitka does tolerate assault, harassment and/or offensive behaviors to protect an abuser(s).

    When Native Tribal leaders and employees fail to protect victims are they guilty of obstruction of justice, malfeasance, lying, etc. Why cover-up one employee’s sexual harassment and/or offensive behavior acts towards other employees? Follow the connections to family, Native council Chair and council member majority, private attorney, a judge and federal funding.

    I have been writing letters to Senator Murkowski for over a decade asking for the crystal clear roadmap to ensure that every Alaskans constitutional and civil rights shall be protected within the whole State of Alaska. We are all U.S. citizens. We should all be afforded justice in any and all courts here in Alaska.

    What is the remedy? I contacted my Alaska Congressional Team present and past years. We need to go before Congress and give testimony that shall ensure every Alaskans right to a fair trial, truth and justice shall prevail within the whole State of Alaska.

    Alaska needs judicial reform to ensure every Alaskan is protected under every layer (federal, state and tribal) of the law. Chief Justice Daniel Winfree severed every Alaskans right to go before a grand jury regarding the public safety when he signed SCO 1993. Alaskans now have no remedy to correct a wrong that a judge has done.

    The only remedy for Alaskans today that will correct the wrong of Alaska Judges and Chief Justice Winfree is the Alaska Constitution Article III § 16. Governor Dunleavy’s authority that states he shall be responsible for the faithful execution of the laws.

    The statute of limitations does not run out on the truth. Are you confused? I’m not. As a U.S. citizen and tribal citizen there are three (3) layers of law that afford a Native woman and her family protection. Federal, state and tribal constitutions and laws. When a liars tell an untruth(s), gives erroneous information, lies by omission or the sleight-of-hand move, any and all laws become blurred because of a liar(s) and jurisdictions that results in no protection of laws whatsoever. Whatever happened to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and justice for all?

    Sovereignty, politics, money, Native leaders connections, good-old-boys/gals club should never protect liars and the abuser(s)/perpetrator(s). Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and justice for all doesn’t happen for all in Alaska.

    • I am sorry to hear about Jeff Fultz trouble here. Despite the news, he kept SEARHC from misdiagnosis and surgical malpractice on me sending me to ANMC for a slip disc when it was only a hip adjustment from a bad fall long ago then it lifted during childbirth needing a chiropractor. SEARHC was so mad at him too, that’s what he told me the higher up’s were mad at him and chewed him out for it, I’m kinda of dumb about this sort of stuff I can’t understand why SEARHC higher ups would be mad, they should had been thankful. they wanted to send me to ANNC for unnecessary surgery. I been ever since grateful to Dr. Jeff Fultz. I’ll still be grateful even after this news.

    • Also too I believe male health care workers should’nt be alone in a room with a female patient without a female present whether she is a family member grandmother, mom, daughter, or another female employee. Same with female health care workers should not alone on the same room with a male patient. In light of todays highly sexualized and desensitized culture it would be wise practice that male health care workers can’t be alone with a female without another female present. The protocol would protect our men (but also women professionals too ) professionals from falling into temptations or false allegations.

      • That’s already standard practice most places. They will at least give the patient the option if they wish to have someone accompany them at all times.

  15. If biology doesn’t control gender then why should it control race? Identify as Native American when it suits or African American or any race you want. Apparently you can change genders at will and now that we’ve broken free of that biologically determined (or so we thought!) immutable trait the sky is the limit.

    • Well, Net; it is like this: I at conception may have have inherited apparent blue eyes but aleut hips and gait along with celtic feet. Why should this preclude me from choosing public employment along with the other recently arrived Irish just because of distinct feminine social friction (s) as entrenched by recently arrived Irish social engineers within my homeland Alaska where my mother sits in her barrabara day fter day eating her agutaq the Aleut ? way?

  16. Do I sense a social friction foaming up here in Anchorage again? May I please have a job? No? Why not? That Irish woman over there got a job in the public sector and she has green hair, and another one with blue hair. What exactly is the difference. Come clean.

    • Best qualified with clean employment history? Go for it! My late husband was part (at least 1/8 Cherokee) and born in Tulsa in 1943, the same week and in the same hospital as Tony Knowles, from what I was told. He did well and his ancestry was never an issue! His grandmother (1/2 Cherokee) was an angel. They never believed they were entitled to anything other than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

      • They were part of the “civilized” tribes that lead the trail of tears like the Choctaw. They originated in the Mississippi valley. Driven west so whites could steal their land. Many died from starving. Ask them if they were happy.

  17. Where do we get our rights, btw? Riots? No. We get our rights not from the hand of man but from the God of Nature not the US Constitution. God has given these natural rights to all. The US Constitution limits our republic powers over free men of the land.

  18. What I’m reading is I can go to a foreign country and break their laws.

    While I understand why we did it, there should have been an expiration date on how long these reservations could exist as independent countries. Kind of throws the whole “secession is illegal” argument out of the window.

  19. Is it a matter of fair ‘complexion” then? I heard it was since I was five. Complexion, complexion, complexion. It would make a fun scientific experiment. Go in and count pink noses and see or predict if they will be removed by tiers of pink noses from the highly prized “pension” gift to pink noses. They don’t keep “status tics”, btw though it would be super easy. EASIER than falling off a log. “They” don’t want to know in this instance. Let’s have more stories like this. “Luv it. Luv ya!”

  20. interesting, i think it is correct in the idea that these “reservations” are legalized “nations” within the US/States and reinforced through treaties. this idea means that the state that these nations lie within do not have authority to govern over the reservation/nation. that to me means that those natives that are living on those reservations should not be allowed to vote in the US or state elections as they are considered sovereign nations apart from the US/State. With that comes the citizen release to help these nations in any way financially through state/federal programs. If they want to govern themselves, then let them, but be prepared to tell them no when they come asking for help. No More Freebies…….

    Indian “lands”, i feel is being taken out of context. the lands being referred too here, i believe are actual “reservation” lands.

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