The Chickasaw Nation Is Part of the Five Civilized Tribes
Video Transcribed: Does McGirt apply to the Chickasaw Nation? I’m McGirt attorney James Wirth, and we’re talking about the application of the United States Supreme court decision in McGirt v Oklahoma to the historic reservation of the Chickasaw Nation.
So the Chickasaw Nation, historically that involved a territory over a number of counties. So that includes parts or all of Grady County, McClain County, Garvin County, Pontotoc County, Stephens County, Custer County, Murray County, Johnston County, Love County, Marshall County, Bryan County, and Coal County. So that’s a lot of territories here in Oklahoma to where, if that is determined to be Indian country, a lot of convictions and a lot of pending cases may be affected by that.
So is it affected by McGirt? So McGirt was the United States Supreme Court decision that decided that the Muskogee Creek nation was never disestablished, or I should say the nation’s reservation was never disestablished. So a good portion of Northeast Oklahoma still remains Indian territory where the state lacks jurisdiction to prosecute both Indians and crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in that territory. So the question is, does that apply to those counties that are in the Chickasaw Reservation? And I can tell you that there is a pending case.
So first off, the Chickasaw Nation is part of the five civilized tribes, and those tribes were involved in the Trail of Tears and relocated to Oklahoma and they were in very similar positions when they negotiated treaties with the federal government. So given that the court, the United States Supreme Court has looked at those agreements as it relates to the Muskogee Creek Nation and decided that it was not disestablished, it is likely that the same test will be used to very similar facts and find that the Chickasaw Nation was never disestablished.
And in fact, there’s a case pending currently, and that is the Sean Bossy case. And he was prosecuted in McClain County and he was actually convicted of multiple counts of murder and got the death penalty. And he is not an Indian himself, but the victims of those crimes were Indian.
And because of that, if the Chickasaw Nation was never disestablished, then that conviction should be or could be, reversed. And that was actually remanded by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals after McGirt to McClain County District Court, for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the victims were in fact Indian and whether the crime did in fact occur in Indian country, i.e., was the Chickasaw Nation ever disestablished.
And through a hearing and the court’s decision, it looks like on October 13th of 2020, the trial court found that the victims were Indian and that the Chickasaw Nation was never disestablished and therefore, it occurred in Indian country. And then that finding has been sent to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for further determination.
The Chickasaw Nation filed an amicus brief with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on November 4th of 2020. And at this point, we are still awaiting a decision from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, whether it’s going to affirm or it’s going to overrule the McClain County district court decision finding that the Chickasaw Nation was never disestablished.
I think it’s likely that the court will affirm that and that we will then have at least a higher court ruling, rather than the trial court ruling. But at this point, we have at least one trial court that has found that the Chickasaw Nation was never disestablished. And we’re likely to get a similar decision from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals soon.
So if you are a defendant, you know somebody who is the defendant who is facing a crime there who is Native American, or the victim is Native American, that state court may lack jurisdiction. Likewise, if you know somebody or you yourself were convicted in a state court for a crime allegedly occurring within the historic reservation boundaries for the Chickasaw Nation, then you’re probably going to want to talk to an attorney about your specific case. If you want to talk to someone in my office, go to makelaweasy.com.