One year ago this week, the COVID shutdown changed our daily routines and like most of you, we have spent the year mostly at home. We have dealt with loss and grief, but we’ve also used the year to get healthier. Priorities overhauled. More time with family. Cooking and eating almost every meal at home.
I have watched with great pride as the hard work of decades of building comprehensive tribal healthcare infrastructure and investing in public health, paid off for the tribes around us in Oklahoma. And then, as the tribes began vaccinating all Oklahomans within their reservations, Indian and non-Indian alike regardless of age, it was not lost on many of us that tribes were directly supporting many individuals that continue to push back on most tribal actions. When they couldn’t get vaccinated by Oklahoma, they came to the tribes and the tribes welcomed them with professionalism and efficiency.
We have cabin fever. Wanderlust. And even though we are now fully vaccinated, we need a safe way to have a family trip. For us, that’s a not-that-fancy-but-gets-the-job-done used Class C 26 foot RV. We are heading west, in and out of the old Route 66. It’s also a chance to show my kid a bigger picture of Indian country.
Yesterday, we drove through the Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw Nation reservations. As we drove, I read the new decisions the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals dropped yesterday morning.
If you read all the decisions, you will see that begrudgingly, the Oklahoma judges acknowledged the modern political and territorial boundaries of the Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations, based on the SCOTUS decision McGirt v. Oklahoma. McGirt reaffirmed the Muscogee (Creek) Nation boundaries. Check out Bosse v. Oklahoma (Chickasaw boundaries) and Hogner v. Oklahoma (Cherokee boundaries) for the full read.
With these decisions, maybe 15 % of cases that were previously (illegally) tried in Oklahoma courts, will now be tried in federal and/or tribal courts. Approximately 85-90% of the criminal law cases in Oklahoma will still be heard in Oklahoma courts.
These cases will also mean, that the tribes will get to collect some taxes to fund their own government programs from their own tribal citizens who live inside their own tribe’s boundaries. And maybe some sales tax from people who buy things on the reservation. As to Oklahoma’s tax authority over most people, absolutely nothing changes. That’s honestly the long and short of it. Don’t buy the hype.
As we drove thru these reservations, I read the concurring opinions on an iPad. I purchased that and many other electronics with money I made from being a lawyer, judge, professor, dean AND a Cherokee citizen woman raising a Cherokee citizen boy. He is also Choctaw and the Choctaw Nation reservation will be next.
We were driving on a highway, in an RV with our modern family. We are allowed to be modern people like everyone else. Our reservation was established by law: Cherokee laws and federal laws. As time moves on, people may look different, wear different clothes and live in a world that looks different. None of that changes the legal definition of whether a geographic area is a reservation or not. It’s not a subjective test controlled by how non-Indians “feel” about a place.
It’s just the law and it seems that the people most upset about it, are not going to be personally impacted by it. At. All.
Reading some of the concurring opinions, I was reminded that sanctimonious is a word that doesn’t get used enough anymore. I’m putting that word back into my vocabulary, just like Apple Maps put the 5 Tribes reservations boundaries on my iPhone map app.
Here’s a screenshot from one of the concurring opinions about these “odd sort of Indian reservations”:
In our modern RV, with 3 federally recognized Indians and 2 non-Indians, we have a lot of modern road food with us. I’m gluten free and have been for over a decade. It made my head hurt, so I stopped eating it, as you can read about in this prior blog post.
My mom cooked some snacks for us to eat along the way. She was trying to be thoughtful and make sure I didn’t eat a muffin out of the wrong baggy. Her signage sent a clear message that I was not welcome in that bag.
As you drive across Oklahoma this week, you may see another sign, on the sign of the road, that says “Entering Cherokee Nation.” Please know that you are welcome there. You will be treated well there. Know that it is a reservation that our ancestors insisted upon as part of their payment for leaving behind everything. Leaving behind their ancestors and more than you could possibly imagine.
Cherokees and their friends the Muscogee (Creek), Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminoles are modern Indian people with modern day Indian reservations. And they are Oklahomans too. And as I said in a Slate article back in July, “the sun came up just fine in Tulsa today.”