DURANT — On Sept. 2, Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton announced the formation of the Sovereignty for Strong Communities Commission in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling, establishing an initial $2 million budget to uphold law and order on its reservation.
In July, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of McGirt v. Oklahoma, acknowledging that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation continues as a reservation and was not dissolved at Oklahoma’s statehood.
It also eliminates the state’s role in prosecuting major offenses committed by Muscogees within the reservation. Such crimes are reserved for tribal courts or the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.
According to Batton, the ruling will not apply beyond the Muscogee Nation until additional rulings by lower courts or congressional action prompts it to be extended.
"We still believe we have some time - at least a few months, most likely - before McGirt applies to us," Batton said.
In response to the ruling, Batton established the commission to probe five key areas of potential impact, including law enforcement, Indian child welfare, judicial affairs, regulatory affairs and taxation.
Tribal leadership budgeted $2 million to fund the interim effort.
Committee members will be drawn from across the Choctaw government.
"We will explore all opportunities that make the lives of our tribal members and the communities in which they reside better," Batton said.
The tribe began the process of hiring 10 additional police and patrolmen who will be posted across the nearly 11,000 square-mile Choctaw Nation reservation.
It is also preparing to hire seven new social workers as well as assistant prosecutors, public defenders and a court clerk to augment existing tribal judicial and legal capabilities.
According to some legal experts, the underpinnings of the treaty on which the McGirt ruling is based may soon apply to all Five Civilized Tribes due to the similarity of their treaties and history of their relationships with the United States.