Saturday, July 18, 2020

Oklahoma Questions

Earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch surprised many observers by writing a 5-4 decision in favor of indigenous rights. I had not been aware of the McGirt v. Oklahoma case until the day it was decided, when I saw various links indicating that the map of Oklahoma was to be redrawn. As a geographer, I naturally had some questions.
A map of Oklahoma circulating since July 9.
Because the McGirt case concerns jurisdiction over a criminal case, the immediate effect of the "redrawing" relates to which areas remain the purview of state or federal prosecutors and courts. The majority opinion cites long-standing treaties as the basis for federal jurisdiction on behalf of tribal governments. In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Roberts appears to emphasize the inconvenience of this result for the State of Oklahoma, rather than whether the treaties are or are not valid. Journalists Chris Casteel and David Morris describe the ruling in an article and video posted on The Daily Oklahoman immediately following the ruling.

A few days later, the NPR program 1A (please get to know this show if you do not already!) assembled an expert panel to discuss the ruling in a broader context. Host Jenn White discusses the McGirt case, the name change of the Washington-area NFL team, and the victory of native people in the Dakota Access pipeline case with indigenous academics and activists, as well as Jonodev Chaudhuri, ambassador to the United States for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. This discussion is a half-hour well spent, as the experts answer some of the questions raised by these rulings and indicate that some of its geographic implications remain far from clear.

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