14 July, 2020

The McGirt Case Is a Historic Win for Tribes


In the long Indigenous struggle for justice, McGirt v. Oklahoma might be one of the most important Supreme Court cases of all time. The decision, 5–4 in favor of McGirt and the tribe, acknowledges that Congress has never extinguished the reservation lands set aside for the Muscogee Creek Nation in 1866. Or, put more plainly, 19 million acres composing 47 percent of the state of Oklahoma—an area that’s home to 1.8 million people—is still Native land. Writing the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch grasped the gravity of the ruling. “On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise,” he wrote in an opening line sure to reverberate through Indian law and history. “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.” That the government must keep its promises and follow the law should hardly be controversial.