FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sr. Native Affairs Policy Advisor, NIWRC
(WASHINGTON, D.C., July 20, 2020)—The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) applauds Muscogee (Creek) Nation Chief David Hill’s and Seminole Nation Chief Greg Chilcoat’s decision to stand for sovereignty and safety for Native women in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s historic decision in McGirt. The Supreme Court’s July 9 decision in McGirt affirmed the treaty reservation borders of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. As the NIWRC explained in its amicus brief filed in the case before the Court, this ruling has significant implications for Native women and the Tribal Nations that seek to protect them. By confirming the extant borders of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reservation, the Court effectively upheld the Nation’s continued jurisdiction over criminals who seek to commit domestic violence crimes against Native women.
One week later, however, Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Mike Hunter, announced he was working on an “agreement” with the Five Tribes of Oklahoma (Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Seminole Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation, and Cherokee Nation), whereby the Five Tribes would voluntarily surrender the sovereignty the Supreme Court had recently confirmed. Under the proposed agreement, the state of Oklahoma intends to ask Congress to pass a law limiting tribal civil jurisdiction over non-Indians to only those situations where the non-Indian has a "consensual relationship, such as contracts" with the Tribe, mirroring the Supreme Court’s 1981 decision in Montana v. United States which limited the civil jurisdiction of Tribal Nations over non-Indians on tribal lands. Such a limitation would also conflict with Section 905 of VAWA 2013 Title IX which clarified that tribal courts have full civil jurisdiction to issue and enforce protection orders involving any person to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Advocates working to eradicate violence against Native women in Oklahoma and across Indian Country have expressed dismay at AG Hunter’s announced agreement and the public statement that the Five Tribes will ask Congress—alongside Oklahoma—to pass legislation reversing the Court’s historic decision in McGirt and essentially codifying the Montana decision.
“There will be serious consequences if Oklahoma succeeds in getting this agreement passed as legislation in Congress,” explains Dawn Stover, Executive Director of the Alliance of Tribal Coalitions to End Violence. “Non-Native domestic violence perpetrators routinely rely on Montana to argue that Tribal Courts do not have civil jurisdiction to issue protective orders against non-Indian men who beat Native women. If we are going to ask Congress to do anything with the Court’s decision in Montana, we should ask them to overturn it. Not codify it.”
It seems, however, that AG Hunter rushed to release a proposed agreement before actually securing the review and consent of all of the Five Tribes’ elected leadership. On July 17, 2020, Seminole Nation Chief Chilcoat responded to AG Hunter’s proposed agreement, stating that: “To be clear, the Seminole Nation has not been involved with discussions regarding proposed legislation between the other four tribes and the State of Oklahoma. Furthermore, the Seminole Nation has not engaged in any such discussions with the State of Oklahoma, including with the Attorney General, to develop a framework for clarifying respective jurisdictions and to ensure collaboration among tribal, state and federal authorities regarding the administration of justice across Seminole Nation lands.”
Soon after Chief Chilcoat’s statement, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Chief David Hill echoed these sentiments, stating, “Muscogee (Creek) Nation is not in agreement with the proposed Agreement-in-Principle released by the State of Oklahoma yesterday.” Chief Hill acknowledged that collaboration and intergovernmental agreements among the State of Oklahoma, the Tribes, and the federal government would be critical following McGirt, but also noted that such collaboration “does not require congressional legislation.”
“NIWRC applauds and thanks both Chief Chilcoat and Chief Hill for their leadership and their stand for sovereignty,” said Lucy Simpson, NIWRC Executive Director. “As a Native nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring Tribal sovereignty and safeguarding Native women and children, we will continue to strongly reiterate the importance of the inherent sovereign authority of Tribal Nations for the safety, protection and welfare of Tribal citizens.”
“For those of us who are citizens of one of the Five Tribes, Chief Hill and Chief Chilcoat’s leadership gives us hope that the historic victory we won in McGirt will not be surrendered,” said Cherrah Giles, NIWRC Board President and a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, adding, “and any legislation that Oklahoma proposes that seeks to diminish the authority of our Tribal Nations to protect our women from domestic abuse and violence will be firmly opposed.”
About the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center:
The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Inc. (NIWRC) is a Native-led nonprofit organization dedicated to ending violence against Native women and children. NIWRC provides national leadership in ending gender-based violence in tribal communities by lifting up the collective voices of grassroots advocates and offering culturally grounded resources, technical assistance and training, and policy development to strengthen tribal sovereignty. The filing of the McGirt amicus brief was made possible through NIWRC’s VAWA Sovereignty Initiative, a project focusing on the defense of the constitutionality and functionality of all VAWA tribal provisions, as well as the inherent authority of Indian Nations to protect Native women. niwrc.org