The Muscogee (Creek) Nation filed a complaint in US federal court Wednesday against the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, accusing the city of violating tribal sovereignty by writing tickets to tribal members for traffic violations committed within reservation boundaries.
The nation asserts that the city lacks criminal jurisdiction over Native Americans on the tribe’s lands without express congressional authorization, as per the 2020 US Supreme Court case McGirt v. Oklahoma. The tribe also cited a recent appellate court decision which ruled that the city of Tulsa lacked jurisdiction to prosecute a speeding ticket issued to a Choctaw tribal member on the Muscogee reservation. Tulsa is the second largest city in the state of Oklahoma and is situated almost entirely on Native American reservations, which include those of the Cherokee and Muscogee Nations.
The case is the newest piece of litigation over tribal sovereignty following the Supreme Court’s McGirt decision, which held that the US Congress had never dissolved the reservations of the so-called “Five-Civilized Tribes,” including the Creek Nation, despite the incorporation of Oklahoma as a state in 1907. As a result, much of eastern Oklahoma and the city of Tulsa remain Native American reservations, split between the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole tribes.
Since prosecutions for crimes committed by Native Americans on reservations are usually the responsibility of the US and tribal governments, states can only exercise jurisdiction if they can show that Congress authorized an exception to the rule. According to the Creek Nation’s complaint, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit decided that the city lacks criminal jurisdiction over such cases in Hooper v. City of Tulsa.
In a press release, Principle Chief David Hill of the Muscogee Nation said:
Our Nation has always been a leader in the fight to defend tribal sovereignty. We continue to welcome government-to-government cooperation with the City of Tulsa. But we will not stand by and watch the City disregard our sovereignty and our own laws by requiring Muscogee and other tribal citizens to respond to citations in Tulsa city court because of the City’s make-believe legal theories.
The nation’s traffic code mirrors Tulsa’s and the Tribe engages in cross-deputization agreements to allow law enforcement to handle illegal conduct on the reservation. They accused the city of “selective participation” in these agreements regarding traffic offenses, despite referring other criminal matters to the tribe.
The Muscogee Creek Tribe is originally from an area straddling the border between what is now Georgia and Alabama. After military defeat and the Indian Removal Act of 1930, the Creek gave up their traditional lands and were relocated to eastern Oklahoma under the direction of President Andrew Jackson in exchange for “financial and material assistance.” The relocation was also accompanied by a guarantee that they would be allowed to “live on their new property under the protection of the United States Government forever.”