Indigenous people celebrate historic Supreme Court ruling upholding treaties in Oklahoma

This week, a Supreme Court ruling has acknowledged that, at least for the sake of federal criminal prosecutions, most of the eastern half of Oklahoma belongs to the Muscogee (Creek) Indian Tribe. The ruling enforces treaties made in the 19th century, despite objections from state and federal governments, and upholds the sovereignty of the Muscogee to prosecute crimes committed by tribe members within their own lands.

The U.S. government has a long and storied history of breaking treaties with Native American tribes, and Indigenous communities have suffered greatly because of those broken promises.

Stacy Leeds, a former Cherokee Nation Supreme Court justice and former special district court judge for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, described the ruling in an article on Slate:


"Yesterday's long-awaited United States Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma pulled no punches in recognizing and reaffirming the political and territorial boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The court held that the treaty-guaranteed geographic borders of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation survived Oklahoma statehood and that these reservation boundaries remain legally valid jurisdictional markers for criminal jurisdiction over tribal citizens.

The court noted that Oklahoma repeatedly overstepped and stretched its governmental powers beyond what federal law provides. In short, Oklahoma has no legal authority to prosecute Native Americans for crimes committed within an Indian reservation. Oklahoma spent a century actively creating a law on the ground that was contrary to the law on the books."

Leeds also described the history of the U.S. abrogating its own laws, violating treaties, and abusing non-native police powers in the name of "law and order" on Indian lands. "Unlawful acts, performed long enough and with sufficient vigor, are never enough to amend the law," the Supreme Court ruling states, in a rebuke Leeds called "powerful."

"If ever there were a statement to capture the collective experience of Indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities across the United States, that was it," she wrote. "Might does not make right."

Native American groups also celebrated the ruling, with the National Congress of American Indians saying in a statement they "applaud" the decision, "which confirmed that the treaty-defined boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation still remain in full force today."

The NCAI continued, pointing to the specific treaties being upheld:

"Through treaty, the United States 'solemnly guarantied' the Muscogee (Creek) Nation their reservation as a 'permanent home' in exchange for leaving their eastern homelands (Treaty with the Creeks (1832) and Treaty with the Creeks (1833)). In a later treaty, the United States reaffirmed that the reservation was 'forever set apart as a home for said Creek Nation' (Treaty with the Creeks (1866)).

Today's historic decision by the United States Supreme Court reaffirms that understanding. In issuing the opinion of the Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch said, 'Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.'"

Holding the government to its word. What a novel idea.

Leeds pointed out that the ruling wasn't radical, but right in line with what we should expect in sovereign nations, which the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is:

"The sun came up just fine in Tulsa today. Oklahoma state court judges will do their jobs and exercise jurisdiction over most crimes that take place in Oklahoma for the rest of their careers.

Thirty-six miles to the south, Muscogee (Creek) Nation judges will do their jobs today, but for the first time in over a century, they will exercise jurisdiction over all of their citizens who commit crimes within their nation. It's not a radical notion. It's a basic right of governance exercised all over the globe."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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