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In June 2020, the US Supreme Court ruled Oklahoma’s government doesn’t have jurisdiction to try criminal cases on tribal land. Since then, Governor Stitt’s administration has fought relentlessly to reverse the ruling and deny tribes their sovereignty.
In addition to denying hunting and fishing compacts with state tribes last month, the Governor, along with others like Mayor GT Bynum, have petitioned the High Court to overturn the decision. Last Friday, justices met to determine whether or not they would revisit the original decision. At the same time, the Governor continues a public campaign against the tribal jurisdiction.
Stitt says McGirt has made Oklahoma a “lawless state”
In an interview in July with KOSU, Governor Stitt claimed the decision made Oklahoma “a lawless state“.
In October, following a federal appeals court decision, Stitt claimed tribal sovereignty over criminal cases was “tearing the state apart“.
“As I have said from the beginning, McGirt not only creates a public safety nightmare, but threatens the sovereignty of our state to its core,” Stitt’s statement continued. “Oklahoma is being cobbled up piece by piece. This cannot stand.”
Just last week, on the day before the Justices met, Stitt’s team made a post on Facebook aimed at furthering anti-McGirt sentiment. The story focuses on a Broken Arrow couple who lost their dogs in an attack by neighbor’s dog. The Governor’s post frames a the lack of an arrest in the case as another consequence of McGirt.
“The McGirt ruling prevents police from doing anything since the other owner is native,” the Governor’s post claimed. The came, however, was not true. In a statement, the Muskogee nation made clear it was working to address the situation.
“The Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General’s Office is considering all legal avenues… to address this tragic situation,” the statement read.
The tribe’s leaders said they “have initiated eviction proceedings” against the owners of the violent dogs.
Stitt’s fight against McGirt drawing on “damaging” anti-Native stereotypes
The Governor’s campaign against the decision has largely centered around a narrative that upholding tribal sovereignty will make Oklahoma less safe.
Associations of “crime” and “lawlessness” with tribal communities “persist damaging Native stereotypes”, according to Virginia McLaurin.
McLaurin, a cultural anthropologist and professor of Native American studies warns that these stereotypes in media and elsewhere a long lasting implications.
“Stereotypes, when reinforced often enough, have been shown to affect how we view others,” she writes.
Essayist Josh Weldon attacks these stereotypes as “racist tropes” that “pit civilization against savagery”. He says they often paint a picture of “a lawless frontier where criminals run free”.
Jeanne Heffernan, a professor of political science, says claims of “lawlessness” draw on myths of “pioneers taming the west”. According to Heffernan, these tropes portray white settlers as “a civilized people imposing order on a recalcitrant landscape populated by unruly Indians”.
These same stereotypes from decades old media find themselves replayed today in the Oklahoma Governor’s crusade against tribal sovereignty.
Tribal leaders push back against Governor’s claims
Overall, the facts don’t align with the narrative that McGirt makes Oklahoma a place of lawlessness.
According to KOSU, the governor claimed last year that 76,000 cases have been affected by the ruling, even though “the total number of people in the state’s entire criminal justice system” is 78,000.
Still, tribal leaders have reassured officials that they are committing resources to tackle cases now under their jurisdiction. An analysis by the Tulsa World shows the majority of individuals released after McGirt are facing trial in tribal or federal court.
These leaders have also consistently expressed a willingness to sit down with the Governor and his administration to find a path forward.
Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby reiterated this sentiment in a statement posted on the tribe’s Facebook page.
“We serve our communities best when we work together in a spirit of common cause and intergovernmental respect,” Anoatubby said.
“Our goal is to continue working collaboratively to protect public safety, preserve justice and maintain law and order.”