On July 9, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that approximately half of Oklahoma is inside a Native American reservation. (Read coverage from NPR and The New York Times.)
The decision, authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, opens with this:
On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever. In exchange for ceding “all their land, East of the Mississippi river,” the U. S. government agreed by treaty that “[t]he Creek country west of the Mississippi shall be solemnly guarantied to the Creek Indians.” … Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.
It’s a fascinating decision for many reasons, and I think the best way to fully understand it is listening to the podcast This Land. (Most episodes were produced and released prior to the decision, but new episodes are now being made.)
Hosted by Rebecca Nagle, an Oklahoma journalist and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, This Land examines how a seemingly simple murder case led to the largest restoration of tribal land in U.S. history. I highly recommend it.
Also recommended is this opinion piece in The New York Times: “This 19th-Century Law Helps Shape Criminal Justice in Indian Country” by David Heska Wanbli Weiden, a professor of Native American studies. His article discusses the impact of the Major Crimes Act, enacted in 1885.