Landmark Ruling Upholds Sanctity of Treaties Between the U. S. and American Indians-Well, Sort Of

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What a New Supreme Court Decision Means for Native American Sovereignty

by Nora McGreevey/Smithsonianmag.com

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the case McGirt v. Oklahoma that much of the eastern half of Oklahoma falls within Native American territory. The decision—which places criminal cases involving Native Americans on the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation under federal, rather than state, jurisdiction—is “one of the most consequential” legal wins for tribal rights in decades, report Jack Healy and Adam Liptak for the New York Times.

The case hinged on a key question: Did the reservation, established by U.S. treaties during the 1830s, continue to exist after Oklahoma officially became a state in 1907?



In a 5-4 decision, the court declared that the land promised to the Creek remains a reservation for the purposes of legal jurisdiction. Justices Neil Gorsuch, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer supported the ruling, while Justices John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Officials from the Creek Nation celebrated the legal victory in a statement released Thursday.

“This is a historic day,” Principal Chief David Hill tells the Times. “This is amazing. It’s never too late to make things right.”

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