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Opinion: More turns of the crank from McGirt ruling

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt

Gov. Kevin Stitt wants to be part of discussions regarding state-tribal relations as they relate to a historic U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer. Will he gain any traction in this endeavor?

Time will tell, but the governor's role appears limited, and comments from some tribal leaders indicate they are fine moving forward as they already have — by dealing with state Attorney General Mike Hunter and members of Congress.

Stitt said the potential fallout from the decision, known as the McGirt decision, merits his office’s involvement. In that decision, the Supreme Court said the federal government must handle major crimes involving Indians on the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s historical lands because the tribe’s reservation was never disestablished.

State courts have extended that decision to other members of the Five Tribes — the Chickasaws, Cherokees, Seminoles and Choctaws — and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals is expected to uphold those courts’ rulings. If that happens, much of eastern Oklahoma will be considered Indian Country for the purpose of criminal jurisdiction.

In pushing for negotiations, Stitt said last week that it is “critically important” for the state and tribal leaders to begin negotiations “to resolve the potential ramifications of this ruling.”

State law gives the governor authority to negotiate and enter into agreements with the tribes on behalf of the state, Stitt said in announcing he had named his special counsel for Native American affairs to be the state’s lead negotiator. He said that because of the ruling, crimes “are going unpunished and convicted criminals are seeking to be set free. We can’t allow this to happen.”

However, The Oklahoman’s Chris Casteel noted that before the state can compact with tribes on criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country, Congress must grant authority, something Hunter has asked Congress to do. Hunter thought he had an agreement to present to Congress last year regarding criminal and potential civil jurisdiction, but the Creeks and Seminoles rejected the plan.

Several days before Stitt’s call last week for negotiations, the leaders of the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations said they want Congress to give them the authority to negotiate agreements involving when the feds, state and tribes could assert criminal jurisdiction.

The Cherokees “believe the path is clear in criminal jurisdiction issues: Federal legislation should authorize compacting between the Cherokee Nation and the state,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby said something similar: “We believe there is a clear path forward on criminal jurisdiction respecting tribal, state and federal sovereignty. …”

No mention of the governor specifically. He may have his work cut out with this endeavor.


Opinion editor Owen Canfield is in his 18th year writing editorials for The Oklahoman and has spent nearly 40 years in journalism. Email Owen at or call him at (405) 475-3205. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a print or digital subscription at

Owen Canfield III

Owen Canfield has written editorials for The Oklahoman since 2003. Prior to that, he spent 19 years with The Associated Press in Oklahoma City. He is a 1981 graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He and his wife, Lori, have four children. Read more ›