Saturday, October 24, 2020

OCPA column: Leaders in all fields raise alarm on McGirt decision


Leaders in all fields raise alarm on McGirt decision
By Jonathan Small

Numerous leaders in many fields are raising the alarm about the repercussions of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which declared the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation was never disestablished.

Those critiques highlight why Oklahoma and tribal governments must agree to a uniform set of rules and regulations for all citizens, no matter where they live or their heritage. To do otherwise will not only produce chaos but also drive jobs and opportunity out of the state.

While McGirt dealt with only one tribe and one issue (criminal prosecution), it is expected to extend to five tribes with territories covering 40 percent of Oklahoma that are home to 1.8 million citizens, most of them non-Indian, and affect issues including taxes and regulation.

In a letter to the state’s congressional delegation, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau notes that, because of McGirt, non-tribal citizens potentially face new taxes if they own property in reservation territory. And businesses in affected areas, including farms and ranches, may face new tribal zoning or environmental regulations added on top of existing state and local ordinances.

Obviously, that would deter much economic activity, including in communities home to tribal governments’ headquarters.

The Oklahoma Commission on Cooperative Sovereignty, formed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, has similarly warned that McGirt’s repercussions will make Oklahoma less appealing for business investment unless officials reach agreement for uniform, consistent regulation in all parts of the state. If zoning regulations can vary for identical businesses located literally across the street from one another—a real possibility based on geographic location and the tribal status of each business’ owners—most companies will conclude it’s not worth the effort and shift investment to other states.

At the same time, the commission noted all citizens use state roads, schools and other services, yet the burden of paying for them may now be shifted to only non-tribal citizens under McGirt—unless offensive actions like segregated schools for Indian and non-Indians become the norm, which no one wants to see happen.

The energy industry is also being affected with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission grappling with how the ruling could curtail its authority and potentially reduce funding for enforcement of state regulations.

Even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has written that the court should address McGirt’s fallout by taking up additional cases that will clarify these issues.

State and tribal leaders must come together and reach agreements that provide fairness, certainty and unity for all Oklahomans, regardless of where they live or who their ancestors were. If they do not, all Oklahomans will be negatively impacted. While individuals who praise the McGirt decision may pretend otherwise, those losing opportunity will not be segregated into Indian and non-Indian.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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