The United States Supreme Court on Thursday July 9, 2020 ruled that a huge part of Oklahoma is Native American land for certain purposes, siding with a Native American man who had challenged his conviction by Oklahoma state authorities in the territory.
The 5-4 United States Supreme Court decision, with an opinion authored by United States Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, endorsed the claim of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to the land, which encompasses 3 million acres in eastern Oklahoma, including most of the city of Tulsa.
The United States Supreme Court decision means that only federal authorities, no longer state prosecutors, can file charges against Native Americans who commit serious alleged crimes on that land, which is home to 1.8 million people (less than 15% are Native Americans on that land).
“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law,” United States Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote.
“Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word,” United States Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote.
The cases were based on the application of the Major Crimes Act, which gives federal authorities, rather than state prosecutors, jurisdiction over serious crimes committed by or against Native Americans in Native American territory. The Major Crimes Act is a law passed by the United States Congress in 1885 as the final section of the Indian Appropriations Act of that year. The Major Crimes Act is law that places certain crimes under federal jurisdiction if they are committed by a Native American in Native territory.
The Major Crimes Act followed the 1817 General Crimes Act, which extended federal jurisdiction to crimes committed in Native territory but did not cover crimes committed by Native Americans against Native Americans. The Major Crimes Act therefore broadened federal jurisdiction in Native territory by extending it to some crimes committed by Native Americans against Native Americans.