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Court rules that Quapaw Nation's reservation was never disestablished

Quapaw Nation

Another tribal nation in the state had the boundaries of its reservation affirmed Thursday, as the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled the Quapaw Nation's reservation was never disestablished.

With this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma extends beyond the five tribes. The affirmation of the reservation will affect cases like the one of Jeremy Lawhorn. He appealed his conviction of lewd acts with a child because he is Native American and the crime occurred within the Quapaw Nation's boundaries.

The district judge ruled in 2020 that the state of Oklahoma didn't have jurisdiction to charge Lawhorn, and the Court of Criminal Appeals upheld that ruling.

The Ottawa County District Attorney and the state Attorney General did extensive research and found that like the other tribes affected by the McGirt ruling, Congress never disestablished the Quapaw Nation's reservation.

The reservation was established by treaties in 1833 and 1867 after the Quapaw were removed to northeast Oklahoma from their homelands in Arkansas and Missouri.

Quapaw Nation's Chairman Joseph Byrd said the decision affirms what they already knew — that the Quapaw Nation resides in Indian Country.

"Our Reservation still exists, and our sovereign rights are what we have always known them to be," said Byrd.

Byrd said the tribal nation has been upgrading their public safety system, including more support for Quapaw Nation Marshals Service in advance of the OCCA ruling.

"Although the resolution of this matter took time, we are pleased the court arrived at the correct decision and are eager to work with federal and state authorities, as well as our tribal neighbors to implement positive changes to our criminal justice system," said Byrd.

Quapaw Nation Vice Chairwoman Callie Bowden said they are prepared, citing a criminal justice center opened two years ago and modernization of their court system.

"The Quapaw Nation is ready for this," said Bowden. "We already have cross-jurisdictional agreements in place with various law enforcement agencies across our Reservation."

In a written statement, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt stated that the decision is causing the state to be "cobbled up piece by piece."

"The Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling continues to tear Oklahoma apart. Today, the Court of Criminals Appeals found that for purposes of federal criminal law, a portion of Ottawa County no longer falls under the jurisdiction of the state of Oklahoma. This is the sixth new jurisdiction in our state. Oklahoma is literally being torn into pieces," Stitt said.

With this ruling, Lawhorn will need to be retried for the crime in federal court.

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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