Harjo: Chief Chuck Hoskin needs to "back off and sit down" on tribal sovereignty issue

The following is an Open Letter to Muscogee Creek Nation citizens (and to Cherokees who are committed to Native Nations’ sovereignty, treaties, laws, jurisdiction and ways) from American Indian rights activist Suzan Shown Harjo regarding Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr.'s announcement of an agreement-in-principle delegating shared sovereignty to the state of Oklahoma.

It is a sad day in Indian Country when one Native Nation is willing to sell out another because of some backroom dealing benefit. Cherokee Nation Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., it is with all due respect that I say: You need to back off and sit down. Despite shiny talking points and rhetoric of not standing by while Congress considers our future, the truth is there for all to see.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill has stated he and Muscogee Nation will not surrender Muscogee (Creek) Nation's sovereignty. Cherokee Chief Hoskin, however, has refused to back down. He has publicly stated he will continue to work with U.S. Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK)—and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R-Cherokee)—to pass legislation that would make Oklahoma a P.L-280 state and codify Montana v. United States, which is the worst Supreme Court case on tribal civil jurisdiction in our known history.

P.L.-280 was enacted nearly 70 years ago, in 1953, squarely in and of the infamous federal/tribal termination era, which has been repudiated by Native Nations, Congress and U.S. Presidents as calamitous and disastrous for Native Peoples and as a direct blow to Native Nations’ sovereignty, treaties, laws, jurisdiction and ways. P.L.-280 was a congressional giveaway of tribal jurisdiction to six states, and Native Nations bordering them have either regained jurisdiction or are trying to do so.

The most recent time a significant community of Native Nations considered and spoke against states’ jurisdiction and for tribal and federal jurisdiction was in 2016 in a resolution of the annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians. Saying that “tribal nations rely on tribal courts in the exercise of their inherent tribal sovereignty,” the tribal leadership spoke with one voice: “tribal courts allow tribal nations to address civil matters and public safety concerns in a way that is more responsive, culturally appropriate, and attuned to local concerns than a state court system; and…tribal courts provide a front line defense to protect Native children while keeping Native families together through the application of the Indian Child Welfare Act.”

At the same convention, NCAI voted resoundingly to oppose Oklahoma jurisdiction in the state's 2016 version of the Indian Arts and Craft Act Amendments of 1990. Pointedly titled, “Protecting Native Artisans Against Impermissible Restrictive State Legislation,” it was adopted despite Cherokee Nation’s staunch advocacy for the reso and for the state act that had been lobbied through the Oklahoma Legislature by Chief Hoskin’s later pick for Cherokee Delegate to Congress, Kim Teehee.

What is in this Oklahoma-jurisdiction-over-Indians scheme for Cherokee Nation? No one knows, outside of Cherokee Chief Hoskin. Attorney General Sara Hill and their cohorts. No one else has been allowed to read this sovereignty-sacrificing legislation they are crafting behind closed doors. But you can be sure it will only serve Cherokee commercial interests—and not the interests of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and her citizens, who just won the historic victory in the United States Supreme Court.

The great Muscogee (Creek) Nation won McGirt. Not Cherokee Nation. This is exactly how we lost much of this Red Quarter of Mother Earth: “thumbprint chiefs” made their marks on paper selling other peoples’ lands. I hope and pray the rest of Indian Country will support Muscogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill in his stand for the Nation’s sovereignty, treaties, laws, jurisdiction and ways. And please tell the Cherokee Nation to stop turning its back on a sister sovereign just to be in a better position to scoop up crumbs from under the colonizer's table.


Suzan Shown Harjo

Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee) is an advocate for American Indian rights. She is a poet, writer, lecturer, curator, and policy advocate, who has helped Native peoples recover more than one million acres of tribal lands. After co-producing the first Indian news show in the nation for WBAI radio while living in New York City, and producing other shows and theater, in 1974 she moved to Washington, DC, to work on national policy issues. She served as Congressional liaison for Indian affairs in the President Jimmy Carter administration and later as president of the National Council of American Indians. In 2014, Harjo received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor.

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