Castro-Huerta v. Oklahoma SCOTUS ruling infringes on tribal sovereignty

Last week’s SCOTUS ruling on the Castro-Huerta v. Oklahoma case sent shockwaves through Indian Country. This decision comes on the heels of SCOTUS overturning Roe v. Wade as well as limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions

The ruling, which goes against prior precedent, allows states to have jurisdiction where they previously had none: over crimes perpetrated towards Natives by non-Natives on tribal lands. In his dissent, Justice Gorsuch commented: “Where this Court once stood firm, today it wilts. After the Cherokee’s exile to what became Oklahoma, the federal government promised the Tribe that it would remain forever free from interference by state authorities. Only the Tribe or the federal government could punish crimes by or against tribal members on tribal lands. At various points in its history, Oklahoma has chafed at this limitation….Where our predecessors refused to participate in one State’s unlawful power grab at the expense of the Cherokee, today’s Court accedes to another’s” (emphasis added).

Oklahoma is ground zero for the immediate effects of this ruling, but it will have implications for tribes and state-tribal relations across the entire country. We don’t yet know the impact it will have here in Oregon. Time will tell if the state of Oregon will choose to exercise its new-found (but unjust) ability to prosecute crimes on tribal land. One thing is clear, however: the ruling directly infringes on all tribes’ inherent sovereignty. 

COLT supports efforts to protect tribal sovereignty and treaty rights. We urge the conservation community to be informed about tribal issues, to act in good faith as allies to combat injustices, and to prioritize partnerships with tribes in order to strengthen tribal sovereignty and capacity. 

Please see the resources below for further information on the ruling and its implications. 


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Anna-Liza Victory, Oregon Land Justice Project Coordinator

Anna-Liza Victory, Oregon Land Justice Project Coordinator

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