Applefest litigation update press conference #OneidaNation

Posted by Oneida Nation on Thursday, July 30, 2020
Oneida Nation: Applefest litigation update press conference #OneidaNation

'We have been vindicated': Oneida Nation celebrates victory in long-running sovereignty case

The historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma is having immediate impacts in Indian Country, with the Oneida Nation the first tribe to benefit from the changing legal landscape.

In a unanimous decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals last week confirmed that the Oneida Reservation in Wisconsin still exists. The ruling makes clear that McGirt, whose outcome holds the U.S. accountable to promises made to tribal nations, had everything to do with the victory.

"The reservation was created by treaty, and it can be diminished or disestablished only by Congress," Judge David Hamilton wrote of the homeland promised to the Oneidas. "Congress has not done either of those things."

Indianz.Com Audio: 7th Circuit Court of Appeals - Oneida Nation v. Village of Hobart - April 13, 2020

In the 45-page decision, Hamilton described McGirt, which was issued just three weeks prior, as "adjusting" the way in which courts must handle diminishment cases. The July 9 ruling from Justice Neil Gorsuch, whose understanding of Indian law is unprecedented in the federal judiciary, makes it "even more difficult" for opponents to undermine the boundaries of tribal reservations, the 7th Circuit stated.

"McGirt teaches that neither allotment nor the general expectations of Congress are enough to diminish a reservation," Hamilton wrote on July 30.

As a result of McGirt, the 7th Circuit, which hears cases affecting more than a dozen tribes in three Midwest states, must place a "greater focus" on what Congress writes in laws dealing with tribes, Hamilton observed. In this situation, the Oneida Nation -- though it was subject to a series of allotment acts in the late 1800s -- did not lose its reservation status, the appeals court determined.

"The undisputed facts show no congressional intent to diminish," Hamilton wrote.

Oneida Nation claims victory over Village of Hobart regarding Applefest litigation.

Posted by Oneida Nation on Thursday, July 30, 2020

Despite the long-overdue win in Oneida Nation v. Hobart, the tribe had to cancel the event that sparked the litigation. Due to COVID-19, the Big Apple Fest won't be drawing big crowds to the Oneida Reservation next month as originally planned.

But Chairman Tehassi Hill and the rest of the tribal council are celebrating nonetheless. They turned out in their "finest Indian attire," as public relations director Bobbi Webster put it, to announce the ruling during a socially distanced press conference on their homelands.

"We have been vindicated," Hill said last Thursday, noting that the 1838 treaty is the basis for the tribe's reservation in and around Green Bay, the third-largest city in Wisconsin.

"We are pleased with the ruling," Hill continued. "It substantiates what we have asserted all along."

"Although we have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now more confident in how we govern our affairs without the threat of Hobart's continued litigation," Hill added, referring to the local government that has repeatedly tried -- and failed -- to undermine the tribe's reservation.

The village of Hobart has spent more than 10 years trying to extricate itself from the Oneida Nation, despite being located entirely within reservation boundaries. Its leaders went so far as to hire an anti-Indian figure as its highest-ranking administrator in hopes of undermining the tribe's sovereignty.

Efforts to condemn tribal land, impose taxes on tribal land and prevent the restoration of tribal homelands have failed time and time again. But that didn't stop Hobart from insisting the Oneida Nation secure a local permit to host the Big Apple Fest on the reservation.

The village, however, stood alone in its anti-sovereignty pursuits. The Wisconsin Attorney General, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, filed briefs in support of the Oneida Nation after the Big Apple dispute landed at the 7th Circuit.

"The Oneida Nation appreciates the support of the federal government and the state of Wisconsin," Chairman Hill said at the press conference.

Enjoyed visiting virtually with leadership from the Oneida Nation this morning to personally congratulate them on their...

Posted by Principal Chief David Hill on Friday, July 31, 2020

A day after the ruling, Oneida leaders continued the celebration of their sovereignty. They hosted a virtual meeting with counterparts from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, whose treaty-guaranteed reservation was affirmed by the Supreme Court ruling in McGirt.

"Solidarity with Indian Country is important so we can all stand up for our affirmed promises," >Creek Chief David Hill said of the need for tribes and their citizens to stand together in defense of treaty rights and sovereignty.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is the only tribe whose reservation was directly at issue in McGirt. But as the Oneida Nation's victory shows, the high court's precedent has the power to benefit dozens more in Indian Country.

"Not only is this decision a victory for the Oneida Nation, it maintains legal stability and protects more than 100 tribes with similar land allotments," observed the Native American Rights Fund, which submitted a brief on behalf of the National Congress of American Indians and the Indian Land Tenure Foundation.

Yet as Oneida Chairman Tehassi Hill pointed out, it's "business as usual" for his people. The Big Apple Fest, though canceled this year, will continue to operate under tribal law as it always has been, with little changes noticeable to the general public. Prior federal court rulings in favor of the reservation have not upended life on the reservation.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation also has continued to operate business as usual in the wake of McGirt. Despite the historic nature of the ruling, Chief David Hill has said the tribe will still work on a government-to-government basis with fellow sovereigns to address any issues that might arise.

At the same time, the Creeks have faced pressure to join an "agreement-in-principle" regarding potential Congressional legislation. Chief Hill has disavowed the effort but he supports attempts by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) to ensure that public safety remains protected.

"AG Hunter characterized our situation as unique," Hill said in a statement on Monday. "But we are proud to say that there are actually reservations across the country similarly cooperating with local towns and local businesses. However we do recognize that each situation has it’s own unique circumstances which is why we believe a rush to seek one-size-fits-all legislation, especially legislation that hasn’t gone through regular order, is the absolute wrong approach.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (R): Attorney General Hunter Files Brief Seeking Guidance on Cases Impacted by McGirt Decision

Hunter fought the existence of the Creek Reservation at every stage of the case. He now plans to ask the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for guidance in prosecuting crimes that occur within tribal boundaries.

“We are not questioning the Supreme Court’s ruling in McGirt, but instead seeking to promote public safety by saying these convicted criminals waited too long to bring their claims," Hunter said on Monday. "Also, we are asking the court to make clear that the state still has jurisdiction to punish non-Indians who victimize tribal citizens, which would provide the maximum possible protection to tribal members. In the meantime, we are asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to provide guidance on these cases and deny any request by inmates attempting to get released from prison.”

But in recognition of the historic nature of the Supreme Court's decision, Hunter added: "This is no way undermines tribal sovereignty, but instead is a way for the state to work with the federal government in making sure tribal members receive police protection and justice when they are victimized."

McGirt v. Oklahoma

Sharp v. Murphy

Indianz.Com Audio: U.S. Supreme Court - McGirt v. Oklahoma - May 11, 2020

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