Chief Gary Batton
Local, state, and federal laws apply to everyone, and Choctaw Nation tribal members are not exempt. The idea that our tribe turns a blind eye to laws being broken by tribal members is quite simply false.
Critics of tribal sovereignty are claiming the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling is a free ride for tribal members to break the law and ignore law enforcement efforts in local communities. That idea is ridiculous, and it could not be further from the truth.
Tribal nations across Oklahoma have worked for many years with local law enforcement agencies and have spent countless dollars to bolster tribal courts to address the increased case load seen after the McGirt ruling. Since 2020, the Choctaw Nation has filed more than 3,500 felony and misdemeanor cases. These cases are processed in a court system which saw over 150 new hires, including two new judges, 47 new police and criminal investigators, seven new prosecutors, and a newly established public defenders’ office.
The Choctaw Nation tribal courts hold tribal members accountable. The Nation has filed more than 2,200 traffic violation cases since 2020, with agreements in place that remit a portion of the fines paid back to the municipality where the ticket was issued and reimbursement for mileage and time spent testifying. In addition to increased funding and staffing, tribes have strengthened existing relationships and created new ones with various law enforcement agencies.
Cross-deputization agreements exist between state, county, and municipal law enforcement officers on the reservation to arrest or cite people who violate the law and refer those cases to the correct court systems, including tribal courts. The Choctaw Nation has 77 agreements with other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Quarterly meetings are held with representatives from these agencies to discuss issues affecting local communities and strategies to address them. We appreciate the ongoing teamwork with our law enforcement partners.
Exercising jurisdiction over tribal members is instrumental to our tribal sovereignty. The 10th Circuit Court’s recent decision in Hooper v. The City of Tulsa reaffirmed tribal governments have criminal jurisdiction over tribal members. The Choctaw Nation understands the importance of law and order in protecting tribal members and non-tribal members in the communities in our reservation.
I urge our partners in law enforcement, the courts, and our municipal leaders to reach out to our Prosecutor’s Office at (580) 920-7037 if they have any questions regarding tribal jurisdiction.