Oklahoma tribes celebrate McGirt-related omnibus spending
$62 million will come from the feds for FY2022 to support increased tribal criminal jurisdiction in the Sooner State.
WASHINGTON — Native American leaders in Oklahoma are celebrating the inclusion of $62 million within the U.S. Congress’ omnibus spending package to help them conduct enhanced tribal criminal jurisdiction duties resulting from the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court McGirt ruling.
That decision said tribes retain criminal jurisdiction on their reservations and that much of eastern Oklahoma is still Indian Country, all of which tends to anger state officials — as does federal support and funding for tribal authority achieved as a result of the ruling.
The new federal monies were included in the U.S. House omnibus spending bill, which passed Wednesday, and the Senate companion bill, which passed Thursday.
They are headed to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature, along with increased funding for the Indian Health Service, enhanced tribal jurisdiction provisions as part of the Violence Against Women Act, more urban Indian health spending, and a number of other positive tribal inclusions, including within housing, education, energy and cultural areas.
The Biden administration had requested $10 million in its budget for fiscal year 2022 for McGirt-related issues, which displeased tribal officials who said the amount was far too small. They have been widely sharing their concerns with Biden’s U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
While OMB said it was listening, tribal officials have said they weren’t so sure, and they generally feel that they ended up having greater success in lobbying bipartisan members of Congress for more funding.
The fruits of their efforts were illustrated in a statement released by U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) after the House passed the omnibus spending legislation on Wednesday.
Cole was not shy in promoting the larger amount of funding he helped achieve under the bipartisan legislation.
In fact, as vice ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, the congressman played a critical role in securing the $62 million “to support additional public safety needs as a result of the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision,” his office said in the statement. Cole is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation.
Last year, Oklahoma tribes, including the Choctaw Nation, expressed disappointment that the Biden administration was requesting what they viewed as a low-ball figure for programmatic police services for tribes in Oklahoma.
The tribes were requesting around $300 million, so the $62 million provided in the omnibus got them a bit closer to their goal for 2022, but there will likely be more financial challenges along the way, especially given Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt’s ongoing resistance to increased tribal authority.
A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Stitt has asked the federal government not to provide additional funding to help tribes with their increased McGirt-related jurisdiction. He has portrayed tribes as inept on law and order issues.
But Cole was having none of Stitt’s arguments. The congressman has generally been perplexed by the governor’s anti-tribal sentiments, according to sources close to Cole, although he is said to be loathe to publicly criticize Stitt on state-related matters.
Tribal leaders in Oklahoma have been far less hesitant to express their public distaste for Stitt’s negative views of their sovereignty, and they were happy to celebrate the omnibus package’s pro-tribal spending.
“We in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation are encouraged by the action that Congress took today on two fronts vital to our role in contributing to the safety and security of all people within the boundaries of our reservation,” David Hill, principal chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, said in a statement issued on Thursday.
Hill’s tribe is one of six that have obtained increased criminal jurisdiction as a result of the McGirt decision.
“We applaud Congress for reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and for committing resources to support the investments tribal nations are making to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s sovereignty-affirming McGirt ruling,” Hill continued.
“Through expanded jurisdictional authority and new funding, the VAWA reauthorization provides important tools to help us and other tribal nations throughout the United States pursue justice for and provide support to Indian women who are victims of violent crimes, including domestic abuse, committed by non-Indians. As well, the Act creates new jurisdictional authority for us to prosecute non-Indians who assault Indian law-enforcement officers.”
“We continue to make significant investments to expand our criminal-justice infrastructure to fully implement McGirt as it adds more safety, security and judicial resources for all,” Hill added.
“We welcome Congress’ recognition that decades of illegal actions by the State of Oklahoma have created the need to expand tribal capacity and are grateful for the addition of vital funding to support these efforts as an extension of the federal government’s trust authority and responsibilities to tribal nations.”
Hill also said that his tribe is thankful to Oklahoma’s congressional delegation for their leadership on “important issues that deliver benefits to tribal citizens and everyone who lives in Oklahoma.”
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