The Creek Reservation Cases and the Great Conflict of Modern Day Federal Indian Law

Matthew L.M. Fletcher
In deciding these cases, the Court could determine if a large swath of Oklahoma lies within the tribe’s reservation boundaries.

In deciding these cases, the Court could determine if a large swath of Oklahoma lies within the tribe’s reservation boundaries.

jaflippo via GettyImages

The great conflict of modern-day federal Indian law is between the law and the politics of colonization. Cases before the Supreme Court—McGirt v. Oklahoma, Docket No. 18-9526, (McGirt) and Sharp v. Murphy, Docket No. 17-1107, (Murphy) (collectively, the Creek cases)—have put the power of the text to the test. These cases involve state criminal convictions of tribal citizens for acts committed within the historic boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation in Oklahoma. In deciding these cases, the Court could determine if a large swath of Oklahoma lies within the tribe’s reservation boundaries (meaning, if Oklahoma loses, it will know that it never had the criminal jurisdiction it has assumed it possessed for a century). How did two criminal cases pave the way for this significant Supreme Court decision?

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