The candidate, John Bennett, who is also the state’s Republican Party chairman, was also quoted in the Washington Examiner this month suggesting that Congress should “disestablish the Muscogee Nation reservation.” The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes – Muscogee, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole – quickly pushed back at Bennett’s stance. “Oklahoma is strongest when our tribes are at the table,” the Five Tribes leaders said in a statement after Bennett’s remarks. “Candidates who seek to restrict our rights and disestablish our reservations, after the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed twice that they have always existed, do not deserve to represent our state.” It’s just the latest fight over the decision that tribes have hailed as a “historic” recognition of their sovereignty, and Stitt had criticized as “destructive.” Since McGirt was handed down, the state has filed more than 30 petitions with the Supreme Court challenging the ruling, and the justices this year agreed to consider one, Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta. That case asks whether the state can prosecute non-Indians charged with committing crimes against tribal members on tribal lands. Stitt applauded the court’s decision to take the case. “Criminals have used this decision to commit crimes without punishment. Victims of crime, especially Native victims, have suffered by being forced to relive their worst nightmare in a second trial or having justice elude them completely,” Stitt said in a statement at the time. “I will not stop fighting to ensure we have one set of rules to guarantee justice and equal protection under the law for all citizens.”
A bipartisan array of leaders and political hopefuls support the tribes assertion of their #McGirt rights. CD2 candidate John Bennett is not one of them. His anti-Indian views- calling for the destruction of our reservations- reflect a 19th century mindset. pic.twitter.com/pEF6CiAnP1— Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. (@ChuckHoskin_Jr) April 20, 2022
Stitt has routinely criticized the ruling on multiple platforms, including a pinned tweet on Twitter that says McGirt has “ripped Oklahoma apart” and features a clip from his March 30 appearance on Fox News to discuss the ruling. The state’s brief to the Supreme Court argues that, unless the federal government has specifically pre-empted it, Oklahoma has the authority to prosecute in cases such as Castro-Huerta. Oklahoma tribes have expressed consternation at the state’s approach, and the Five Tribes joined to file a brief this month supporting McGirt. The brief detailed the tribes’ frustration with what it called the state’s “attack” on tribal interests, but reemphasized the nations’ willingness to cooperate in implementing McGirt fully. “The State badly misses the mark when it argues that the Nations lack a significant interest in the outcome of this case,” the tribes’ brief says. “Despite the State’s steadfast resistance, the Nations and United States are effectuating that allocation through increased resources and intergovernmental collaboration in which the Nations are crucial links.” The case being heard Wednesday involves Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta, who was convicted by a Tulsa district court in 2015 of neglecting his stepdaughter, who is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Castro-Huerta is not. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals cited McGirt as it vacated Castro-Huerta’s conviction and 35-year sentence, because the crime involved a Native American and occurred in Indian Country. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, but only on the question of whether the state “has authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians in Indian Country.” It will not reconsider McGirt, which the state had asked for.
McGirt has ripped Oklahoma apart.— Governor Kevin Stitt (@GovStitt) March 31, 2022
We need one set of rules and equal protection under the law. pic.twitter.com/I6WC47OZJ0
The nation’s highest court is set for another tribal sovereignty showdown as the state of Oklahoma continues efforts to weaken a landmark treaty rights decision.
Note: This story originally appeared on Cronkite News. It is published via a Creative Commons license. Cronkite News is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
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