Will the Supreme Court be forced to give away half of Oklahoma?
I’m sure that most of you listening have seen a version of this popular meme. It features a photo of a Native American, usually wearing a feather headdress, with a caption that says something along the lines of, “immigrants threatening your way of life? That must be tough.” There are dozens of versions of this, but you get the point.
But wait, there is now a case that’s worked its way to the Supreme Court that could be the real life embodiment of this online post. In a very interesting piece of reporting today in the New Republic the situation is laid out.
I’ll spare you all the technical details, but basically, there is a murder case in Oklahoma involving two Native Americans. Oklahoma is asking for the death penalty, but the lawyers for the accused have argued that the state cannot execute their client because it happened on tribal land.
Now here’s the kicker: The lawyers for this accused murderer have presented evidence that 111 years ago, the Congress of the United States forgot to disestablish the Creek Nation Tribe and its sovereignty.
Oops. So what does that mean?
If these lawyers are correct, and many in the legal community think they are, it means that nearly half of all the land in Oklahoma will revert back to its previous occupants, the Creek Nation Tribe and several other tribes. The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on this as we speak, and from the questions being asked by the Justices, it appears the tribe just might have legal standing.
Think about that for a minute from the perspective of the tribes. Your great-great grandparents lived and worked land that had been theirs for millennia, up until European settlers came and claimed that very same land. They tried to introduce a concept foreign to your culture: The idea that a person could “own” land.
Through wars and strong-arm treaties, all of the most sought-after land and resources were taken away from your tribe, and you and your people were told you had no right to the land anymore. The Europeans claimed these rights based on their system of laws, and relegated you to a reservation. Except they forgot to make it legal by their own rules.
So now there’s an opportunity to use the very system forced upon your ancestors to reclaim the tribal lands.
As you can imagine, this is a big deal. It would rewrite our history with Native American Tribes over the last century. Most of the questions from the Supreme Court involved practical ramifications of what would happen if they rule in favor of the tribes.
So I’ll put it to you, should we do what is convenient and tidy, or what is correct by the rule of law and very messy?
What an interesting case indeed.