NIWRC Applauds SCOTUS Decision to Affirm the Continued Existence of Muscogee (Creek) Nation's Reservation



(Lame Deer, MT) In a 5-4 decision released today, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, for Major Crimes Act purposes, land reserved for the Creek Nation since the 19th century remains “Indian country.” The Court stated that, "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."

Much was at stake for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, including Native survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. If the Supreme Court had decided to judicially disestablish the Creek Nation’s Reservation, the majority of the lands within the Creek Nation’s historical boundaries would no longer constitute “Indian country” under 18 U.S.C § 1151(a). Such a disestablishment of an existing reservation would eliminate the very same tribal jurisdiction that Congress recently, and intentionally, reaffirmed with regard to crimes of domestic violence committed by non-Indians.

In reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013 (“VAWA”), Congress tethered its restoration of tribal criminal jurisdiction to lands that constitute “Indian country” as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 1151. VAWA, Pub. L. No. 113-4, title IX, § 904(a)(3), 127 Stat. 121 (March 7, 2013) (codified at 25 U.S.C. § 1304(a)(3)). Thus, because the lands within a Tribal Nation’s borders—its “reservation”—constitute “Indian country” under § 1151, a judicial decision disestablishing a Tribal Nation’s reservation would have effectively precluded the Nation from fully implementing VAWA’s restored tribal jurisdiction. For instance, if this Court declared the Creek Nation’s Reservation “disestablished,” the Creek Nation’s ability to prosecute a non-Indian engaged in an act of domestic or dating violence within its territorial jurisdiction would be severely truncated.

In support of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the NIWRC filed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court, offering our unique perspective on Congress’s trust relationship with Indian tribes, the inherent sovereign authority of tribal governments to prosecute crimes committed against their own citizens, and safety for Native women and children. NIWRC was joined by 27 additional organizations that share NIWRC’s commitment to ending domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, and other forms of violence in the United States (collectively, the “NIWRC Amici”). The depth of NIWRC’s experience, along with the additional Amici, in working to end domestic and sexual violence, rendered them uniquely positioned to offer their views on the need for an interpretation of “reservation” and “Indian country” under 18 U.S.C. § 1151(a) that ensures Tribal Nations continue to exercise their inherent criminal jurisdiction to protect all Native women within their borders as envisioned by Congress.

As a Native nonprofit organization that is dedicated to restoring the sovereignty of Native nations and safeguarding Native women and their children, we offer a heart-felt congratulations to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in their historic victory in securing their homelands as promised in treaty negotiations with the United States.