Welcome to Animal Farm
By Steve FairRecently, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal district ruling on whether the City of Tulsa has jurisdiction over Native Americans. Justin Hooper got a speeding ticket five years ago in Tulsa. He pled guilty and paid his fine. Two years later, Hooper, who is a member of the Choctaw tribe, filed for postconviction relief citing the McGirt decision. The Tulsa municipal court threw out the case, as did the federal district court. Hooper appealed to the appellate 10th circuit court, and they agreed the Indian reservations of the five civilized tribes remains intact and the members of the tribes are under no obligation to submit or obey municipal or state law.
Alicia Stroble is a member of the Creek nation. In 2022, Stroble sued the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) contending that she did not have to pay state income taxes because she wasn’t subject the laws of the state of Oklahoma. An OTC administrative judge agreed with her, but the OTC board members reversed the ruling. The case is now in front of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, a body more unstable and unpredictable than water. Who knows how they will rule.
When the McGirt decision was rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), the disestablishment of the reservations was cited as the primary issue. McGirt was thought to apply only to criminal law, but the 10th Circuit decision in the Hooper case indicates the reestablishing of the reservations has more than criminal law implications. Two observations:
First, tribal members in Oklahoma should be subject the same laws as non-tribal members. Since statehood, that has been the case. McGirt changed that. Now the Hooper ruling says non-tribal members in the eastern half of the state have to drive the speed limit, but tribal members can ignore it. That’s unfair and crazy! If Stroble is successful, she will not pay taxes, but non-tribal members will have to. That is asinine! There can’t be two sets of rules in the state. That will divide and ultimately destroy the state.
Governor Kevin Stitt said regarding the Stroble suit: “I will always fight for fairness, and it is just preposterous to believe that in this scenario a single mom of a different race would have to pay taxes, but I as governor (Stitt is Cherokee), wouldn't because of my native heritage. The reality is we all drive on the same roads, send our kids to the same schools- we should all play by the same set of rules regardless of race.”
Tribal leadership appears to want to divide Oklahoma. For over 100 years, the tribes and the state co-existed and cooperated, but now it appears tribal leaders want preferential treatment for their citizens. The Hooper opinion by the 10th circuit sent the message tribal members are like Post cereal – just a little bit better than other Oklahomans.
Second, the Hooper decision was based on race. Ironically, the Hooper decision came the same week the SCOTUS struck down Affirmative Action and ruled college entrance could not be based on race. Sara Hill, the Attorney General for the Cherokee Nation, said, “A lot of people make the mistake this (the Hooper decision) was about race when it's really about being a citizen of a government and who has authority over you.” But Hill is wrong. The determination of tribal citizenship is based on race, so how is the ruling not related to race?
George Orwell's novel, Animal Farm, tells the story of a group of farm animals who rebel against their human farmer. The animals vow to create a society where all the animals are equal and free. But under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon, the pigs ultimately create a state as bad as it was under the farmer. In the final chapter of the book, Napoleon tells the animals that all of them are equal, but some are “more equal” than the others. Welcome to Animal Farm!
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