Supreme Court Victory, Progress for Native Americans
One of the big rulings from this year Supreme Court term was mcgirt versus Oklahoma. The five to four decision declared a swath of the state near Tulsa to be part of the Muskogee creek nations reservation enforcing nineteenth century treaties the US made with the creek that landmark recognition of native American rights could lead to nearly half of the state being classified as Indian country but it also. Wrestled with questions of sovereignty on native American reservations. This is an issue that native American legal advocates Sarah dear who is a citizen of the Muskogee? Creek, nation has been working on for many years. We had a chance to speak with her following the decision Sarah. I'd love to hear your reflections on this decision as well as the broader impact. This could have for all native Americans. Well. Winning a treaty case in the Supreme Court. In twenty twenty is not what anybody was expecting. This case came about in a very interesting and unexpected way as a result of some folks who were prosecuted by home, and so they they were the champions for tribal sovereignty I. It's a very odd circumstance where you have perpetrators of crime on the one hand and celebrating their victory because it means so much for Indian country. So Sarah, you've worked on tribal law and issues of sovereignty for much of your career. Why is this such a pivotal issue for you and for Native Americans? The Supreme Court does not have a great track record with tribal issues and so when cases move their way through the federal system, you know from the district to the circuit to the Supreme Court. Feel like we're always playing defense like we're really struggling to get the issues of tribal tribal governments you know to be treated seriously, and so I think this victory is not just important for native people from my tribe are even if people from Oklahoma but to see a treaty be held up as the law of the land, the constitution requires is a tremendous lift for people all over the United States who care about tribal issues tell us more about the work ahead regarding this issue. Sure. Well, one of the restrictions that still remains on our jurisdiction over crimes is that we can't prosecute. Unless it's a domestic violence case. So that means that if a non native person commits a homicide or a sexual abuse case against a child, if they do those things and it's on the reservation, we have no power over them in terms of the criminal justice system. So one of my long term agenda items is to change that to just re restore tribes like any government can prosecute anybody who comes into our community and commits an act of violence. I'm currently sitting in Kansas right now if I went to Missouri and committed a crime, you know they could prosecute me. So why shouldn't it be the same tribes Sarah gear slightly another big topic in the news, of course, is the impact of the coronavirus across the world and we know that it has also hit native Americans particularly hard. Why is that and what kind of attention would you like to see around this issue? I'm. So glad you asked that I think the primary issue that we're seeing of course, the health disparities that already exist. Right. So we've been talking about how folks have a higher rate of of sort of vulnerabilities like diabetes or lung disease, those kinds of things, and so tribal nations suffer from those disparities as well I think it's also hearkens back right to smallpox in a way because tribal nations almost disappeared as a result of widespread adoption. Starting in the seventeen hundreds and even continuing into the Spanish flu era. In the early part of the twentieth century, you know very high death rates and so there's a sense that here's a sense of urgency about viruses that may not exist in other communities because we know we're barely here. In the aftermath of smallpox, and so we do take these things very seriously. I also think that tribal communities tend to be very small and and sort of. Close, and so that also puts our nation at risk in are like in some of our trouble cultures, you just don't. You don't knock go see grandma. Culturally like you go see grandma right and so that's been a cultural barrier and some of our communities towards the necessary necessity of isolation that's been a hard cultural thing to to deal with for a lot of native people. We're also at a time where we're seeing a movement across the nation focusing on several rights reforming the justice system. It seems like we're also seeing a lot more intersection -ality on issues that overlap for multiple groups here. Do you feel that native Americans are being heard in these broader conversations in this broader push for equality? I do I think that you know the black lives matter has really open doors for for many different issues although the the centering of of black bodies and police brutality certainly at the core, the discussions and the protests that we're having a really opening up a lot of conversations and those are conversations that native people have wanted to have on a national level and wanted to be able to. Take to a larger audience and I think we owe a debt of gratitude to black lives matter which is open. So many doors to talk about difficult historical issues and of course, that's our story right typical historical issues that that have really damaged tribal communities and so that opportunity has we've really benefited I think from other forms of activism and I feel very grateful for the work that they've done.