Chickasaw Nation dedicated to protect and serve, partner with others

This article appeared in the September 2021 edition of the Chickasaw Times

The United States Supreme Court’s ruling last summer that affirmed the Muscogee Creek Nation’s reservation has been a topic of much news and activity. The Supreme Court’s ruling was applied to affirm the Chickasaw Nation’s reservation in March 2021, and litigation continues.

The issues involved in these cases can be complex, but each issue starts with the courts’ respecting and affirming our treaties and our sovereignty. That is a good and powerful thing, but it also only scratches the surface. These rulings also affect Chickasaws and others who have been victims of crime, and they affect communities in which we all live and work. As with all matters relating to our sovereignty, we have duties and responsibilities, and the Chickasaw Nation will always act to fulfill them.

The courts’ rulings mean crimes involving Indians, either as offenders or victims, now lie outside the State’s jurisdiction to prosecute. Prosecution, instead, rests with the United States or the Chickasaw Nation. Sometimes we both have the authority to charge and prosecute. These rulings marked a significant shift in criminal justice responsibilities from the State of Oklahoma to the Chickasaw Nation and the United States.

These rulings expanded the geographic reach of our criminal justice responsibilities from about 3.5 percent of our treaty territory to 100 percent.

Within the Executive Department, this almost thirty-fold increase in duties has fallen primarily to the Lighthorse Police and the Office of Tribal Justice Administration prosecutors.

Prior to the ruling being applied to the Chickasaw Nation, our prosecutors filed about 75 cases each year in Chickasaw Nation District Court.

Since the ruling has been applied to the Chickasaw Nation, prosecutors have filed about 50 cases each week.

Even before the ruling was applied, we began working diligently to meet this expected exponential increase in our criminal justice responsibilities.

Beginning last fall, the Chickasaw Nation Tribal Legislature reviewed and updated much of our criminal code, and we continue our regular review with Tribal Legislators to identify new areas that may need reform. Newly enacted legislation empowers Chickasaw Lighthorse and prosecutors to rely on elements of Oklahoma’s criminal statutes to ensure consistency in Tribal prosecutions and law enforcement.

Other more substantive reforms address specific subject matters or procedural matters designed to enhance the criminal justice system’s operation.

Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department added a dozen law enforcement professionals to its force, which now totals 77 officers. Preparation is underway to further expand our police force.

Since confirmation of the Chickasaw Nation reservation in mid-March and through August 27, Chickasaw Lighthorse responded to 23,358 calls for assistance and made 1,165 arrests on more than 1,874 charges. Meanwhile, Tribal law enforcement and prosecutors have filed 770 criminal cases and 203 traffic citations in Chickasaw Nation Tribal Court.

Lighthorse Police have jurisdiction sharing agreements with 70 law enforcement agencies. We also have adult detention agreements with Marshall, Murray, Jefferson, Johnston, Love and Pittsburgh counties, as well as a juvenile detention agreement with the Sac & Fox Tribe.

More recently, the Chickasaw Nation established a hotline for crime victims and their families. Designed to provide information and to connect victims with programs and services offering support, the new hotline also serves as an important source of real-time information for Chickasaw Nation law enforcement.

The Chickasaw Nation has always taken our responsibility to protect and serve our citizens and the general public within our reservation seriously and we have a long history of intergovernmental cooperation on which we can now build as we work to protect public safety and provide effective law enforcement.

The court rulings affirming our reservation and expanding our sovereign responsibilities only heightens our commitment to working with our intergovernmental partners to provide effective law enforcement and to protect the public’s safety.

We live and work in broader communities, and what affects one of us tends to affect all of us. Working effectively with Federal, State, and local policing and prosecuting agencies helps ensure those affected by the criminal justice system, both victims and the accused, have access to the services they may need to restore their lives or to put their lives back on track.

Honest and productive dialogue among intergovernmental partners based on a shared commitment to respect and cooperation will enable us to chart an effective path forward through the shared challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.