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Courts Rule Two More Tribal Reservations Were Never Disestablished

mcclaincountycourthouse.jpg
Flickr / J. Stephen Conn
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McClain County District Courthouse in Purcell, Okla.

Two recent court decisions say the reservations of the Choctaw Nation and Chickasaw Nation were never disestablished.

On Wednesday, a Pittsburg County Judge ruled that the Choctaw Nation's reservation was never disestablished.

The ruling stems from the cases of Devin Sizemore and James Chandler Ryder. Both were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole in 2018 and 2000, respectively.

Their attorneys argued that, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, the state lacked jurisdiction to try these cases. Both Sizemore and Ryder claim they are citizens of the Choctaw Nation and that their crimes occurred within the Choctaw Nation's reservation boundaries.

District 18 Associate Judge Tim Mills agreed and ruled that the Choctaw Nation's reservation was never disestablished. The case now heads back to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

The day before, a McClain County District Court judge ruled that the Chickasaw Nation's reservation was never disestablished.

That ruling stems from the case of Shaun Bosse, who was convicted of murdering a woman and her two children and sentenced to death in 2012.

Bosse filed for post-conviction relief last summer, claiming that his crime occurred within the boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation and that, since all three of his victims were citizens of the Chickasaw Nation, the state lacked jurisdiction to try the case.

Chickasaw Nation filed an amicus brief in September asserting their reservation boundaries per the Treaty of 1866 were never disestablished.

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anaotubby released a statement late Tuesday saying that federal charges will soon be filed in the case by the U.S. Attorney's office in the Western District of Oklahoma.

"The case will now return to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. We have been in close communication with the United States Attorney and appreciate his assurance that Federal charges will be timely filed against the defendant, in the event the court vacates his conviction," said Governor Anaotubby in a statement released to the press.

"In the meantime, our hearts remain steadfast with the family who has been victimized by this man’s crimes. We will continue our efforts to see justice done."

The rulings follow the July decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in McGirt v. Oklahoma that said Congress never explicitly disestablished the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's reservation. 

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Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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