Recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling seen as win for tribal sovereignty

Published: Jul. 10, 2020 at 4:41 PM CDT
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ONEIDA, Wis. (WBAY) - A recent Supreme Court ruling involving tribal lands in Oklahoma sets a precedent for tribal sovereignty across the nation.

“I think it’s a great victory, I think it’s huge,” said Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi Hill.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that a large portion of Eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian Reservation has received praise from Native nations across the country, including Oneida Nation.

“I was quite excited,” said Hill. “I think it’s a great decision coming out of the Supreme Court to kind of reaffirm what we’ve always believed here in Oneida that allotment is not disestablishment of a reservation.”

Oklahoma argued, in part, that Congress ended the Muscogee Creek Reservation during the allotment era, when tribes were pressured to divide their land into smaller lots for individual tribal members to own.

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, determined allotment does not equate disestablishment of a reservation.

“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word,” Gorsuch wrote.

“It is clear that the intent of Congress must be there in writing, explicitly abolishing or disestablishing a reservation,” said Hill. “I think it is a very good, strongly written opinion, decision that I think is really helpful to tribes across the country.”

Hill says states attempting to argue allotment disestablishes a reservation, and therefore its sovereignty, is nothing new.

“Many tribal nations across this country have faced very similar arguments from not just states but local governments, as well,” said Hill.

Oneida Nation is currently in litigation against Hobart, arguing it shouldn’t be subject to the village’s Special Events Permit Ordinance for Big Apple Fest because the event happens on land within reservation boundaries established in 1838.

“Hobart’s opinion that the reservation was disestablished through allotment, that is the very same argument that was decided in this case,” said Hill.

Hobart did not provide a statement in time for this story.

Hill, meanwhile, thinks the Supreme Court ruling clarifies tribal jurisdiction in a way that can lead to a better future between tribes and local governments.

“As we continue to work with other local governments in the area, City of Green Bay, Town of Oneida, Brown and Outagamie counties, that we continue to create better relationships and build upon this more clarified understanding,” said Hill.

For more information on the U.S. Supreme Court case, CLICK HERE.

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