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HomeGovernmentChief Standing Bear responds to Castro-Huerta SCOTUS case, calls attention to self-governance

Chief Standing Bear responds to Castro-Huerta SCOTUS case, calls attention to self-governance

A seasoned attorney with tribal and gaming law experience, Standing Bear cited history where tribal self-governance preempted state law in Oklahoma.

As the 2022 election year continues in Oklahoma, Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear said self-governance “is the challenge of the Wahzhazhe people now.”

In his third inauguration address to serve a third term, Standing Bear immediately pointed to the ongoing election year for the state, noting several individuals are seeking office who have their own views on state and tribal relations – and especially jurisdiction matters – in Oklahoma. The inauguration also came less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its verdict in the Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta case holding that states have concurrent jurisdiction with the federal government to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian Country in a 5-4 decision.  

“On June 28 … an election for the state of Oklahoma was held and, in that election, several officials of the state who have pledged opposition to the Native American self-governance won their primaries,” Standing Bear said in his July 9 address. “When you look at the counties with high Native American populations – Osage County, Adair County and others – you will see that in the Republican primary, which most of Osage County voters are, (Gov.) Kevin Stitt, the man who pledged to see that we live under one set of rules – the rules of the state of Oklahoma, he won 74% in Osage County… Those are our neighbors, the neighbors we work with.”

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear gives his inaugural address on July 9 at the Osage Casino Hotel in Tulsa. LOUISE RED CORN/Osage News

Oklahoma voters return to the polls on Aug. 23 to cast votes in runoff primary elections and special elections. General Election Day is Nov. 8 for various offices, including the Governor’s. Stitt is seeking his second gubernatorial four-year term.

“But (our neighbors) know Gov. Stitt and many other elected officials have on their agenda not just a rollback of the reservation cases of the Five Civilized Tribes and the Quapaw, but to go much further,” Standing Bear said, referring to the 2020 McGirt case also decided by the Supreme Court. “That was illustrated the next day, July 29, when the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled in the case of Castro-Huerta, a criminal case, and pointed out in the decision Indian Country – that’s all reservations in Oklahoma and nationwide, all trust lands, all restricted lands – are not separate from the state but are part of the state.”

In response to the case, Standing Bear said: “What does this all mean for us right now? When at one time we thought the (U.S. Congress) had the final say-so on what the state could or could not do on our lands, in our territory, in our Minerals Estate – And who is most exposed in my view? Our Minerals Estate.”

Standing Bear continued: “And this immediately brings me to the day that we all must work together to follow our Constitution and protect our Minerals Estate and all our lands. How do we do that? The Supreme Court opinion referenced some historical cases going back to the 1980s. And in Castro-Huerta, the Supreme Court acknowledged there’s two areas where the state has to back up and history has shown that: Where federal law clearly preempts state law or tribal governance, self-governance preempts state law … Preempts means we need to get there first!”

A seasoned attorney with tribal and gaming law experience, Standing Bear cited history where tribal self-governance preempted state law in Oklahoma. “There are cases in Oklahoma that follow that same successful path, notably gaming. Gaming was instituted by a few bold tribes – Muscogee Creek Nation, Seneca-Cayuga of Oklahoma, Cheyenne-Arapaho, Chickasaw Nation – before there was a federal law allowing it. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act did not take place until 1988.”

“Those tribes and others were engaged in gaming in 1984, 85, 86, 87 under tribal law,” Standing Bear continued. “Under tribal law that came under attack by the state of Oklahoma (Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office) and the Oklahoma Tax Commission … So how did the tribes win? The tribes won not relying on federal law because it didn’t exist. The tribes won on self-governance, governing ourselves on our lands with our territory and our people – That is the challenge of the Wahzhazhe people now.”

Standing Bear delivered his address remarks after all Osage officials elected and reelected in the Nation’s June 6 General Election took their oaths at the July 9 inauguration held in the Skyline Event Center at the Tulsa Osage Casino & Hotel. Hundreds of attendees including officials’ family members, friends, community members and the eight Osage Minerals Council members were in attendance. The event opened with an Osage prayer delivered by Dr. Herman “Mogri” Lookout, who is a master teacher in the Nation’s Language Department.

With the Castro-Huerta decision now issued, Standing Bear said “We know the Supreme Court has said if we preempt the state, we can win. Minerals Council: It’s time for you to fully manage our Minerals Estate for our people. (Osage) Congress: The Supreme Court of the Osage Nation has shown us already how it works, we need you to enact the laws of the Osage Nation to do this. For my part I’ll do everything, and Assistant Chief will do everything, we can to claim this territory to preempt this territory as Osage law managed by our Minerals Council.” In closing, Standing Bear said “Mogri’s father, like many of your elders, had some sayings and one of them that’s always stuck with me, Uncle Henry said: ‘Be quick about it, life is short, be quick about it.’”


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Benny Polacca
Benny Polacca started at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter and has covered various stories and events impacting the Osage Nation and Osage people. Polacca is part of the News team awarded the Native American Journalist Association’s Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 and other NAJA Media Awards and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter awards for news coverage and photography. Polacca is an Arizona State University graduate and participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. He previously worked at The Forum newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. region as the weeknight reporter.

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