Could Oklahoma become a Native Reservation?

Briana Thomas

How a 100 year old treaty and a murder case could force the Supreme Court to turn  half of Oklahoma into a Native reservation.

Patrick Murphy, a member of the Muscogee Nation, was convicted of murdering George Jacobs, a fellow tribesman; Murphy was sentenced to death in Oklahoma State Court. Under the Indian Crime Act of 1976, however, crimes committed in defined Native territory are under Native jurisdiction. During his prolonged appeal process, Murphy has argued that the alleged crime did in fact take place on a Native reservation referencing the 1866 Creek Treaty which set the land boundaries for the Muscogee Nation. For Murphy, this would mean getting his case retried under Native law, which rejects the death penalty. While this treaty has been federally ignored, Congress never explicitly changed the Muscogee boundaries.

Murphy’s original appeal by the state was denied. He then sought post-conviction relief through federal district grounds and the court sided with him.  However, Oklahoma State has petitioned for the Supreme Court to overrule this decision. Upholding the treaty would have much larger ramifications than just this one case;  thousands of other cases would need to be retried and hundreds of thousands of citizens would now be under Native jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has heard the oral arguments and has until May to make a decision. It will be interesting to see if they prioritize rectifying this historical injustice or side with practicality.


Potential new boundaries of Oklahoma