MIAMI, Oklahoma – On Thursday, Quapaw Nation leaders will commemorate the historic decision affirming what tribal leaders have always known -- the Quapaw Nation Reservation has remained intact as Indian Country for nearly 200 years.
A press conference between tribal leaders and a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Oklahoma begins at 10 a.m. on Oct. 28. at the tribe’s new Ki-ho-ta justice center just outside Miami, Oklahoma. Following remarks and questions for tribal and federal officials, Quapaw Nation Court staff will host tours of the Ki-ho-ta Center.
Over the past two years, the Quapaw Nation has made significant upgrades to its courts and criminal justice system. The tribe used federal grants to open the $4 million Ki-ho-ta Center less than two years ago. It serves the Quapaw Nation and other tribal citizens in resolving civil and criminal matters.
The Ki-ho-ta Center features a new courtroom but doesn’t only administer prosecutions. The center offers a wide variety of counseling services, DUI classes, drug and alcohol assessments, a methadone clinic and juvenile court. It serves as a one-stop service provider for crime victims and tribal citizens seeking family reunification, rehabilitation, reentry and a range of other therapeutic social services related to the justice system.
The Ki-ho-ta Center and Quapaw Nation Court currently employ three judges, a court clerk and a staff that conducts business five days a week during regular business hours. The Court Clerk is presently working with the Ottawa County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Oklahoma to examine which cases warrant refiling in either federal or tribal court. An open line of communication between the tribes, the state of Oklahoma, and federal prosecutors is critical to serving both victims and the accused. Court dockets are published online at quapawtribe.com, along with the Quapaw Nation’s Court Codes.
Since 1885, Native Americans charged with felonies on tribal reservations have been tried in federal court under the Major Crimes Act. The U.S. Supreme Court famously upheld this precedent in McGirt v. Oklahoma in July of 2020. McGirt reaffirmed that only Congress has the authority to disestablish tribal reservations and that the Muscogee (Creek) Reservation has remained intact since 1833.
On Oct. 21, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) rendered a ruling involving the case of Jeremy Lawhorn, a Cherokee Nation citizen charged with a felony in the Ottawa County District Court. Lawhorn’s attorneys argued that since he is a tribal citizen accused of committing a crime within the scope of the Major Crimes Act, and the alleged crime occurred within the historical boundaries of the Quapaw Nation Reservation, the proper court of jurisdiction is United States federal court.
The OCCA rendered a unanimous 4-0 decision in Lawhorn’s favor, agreeing Congress never disestablished the tribe’s reservation and that the Quapaw Nation in present-day northeast Oklahoma has continuously existed as Indian Country since 1833. Additionally, the OCCA wrote in their opinion that the Quapaw Nation, the Ottawa County District Attorney, and the state of Oklahoma all agreed with the following points:
Per the United States’ 1833 Treaty with the Quapaw, a reservation was established “in order to provide a permanent home for their nation... as long as [the Quapaw] shall exist as a nation (1833 Treaty with the Quapaw).”
“Land set aside for the Quapaw Nation in the 1833 Treaty, as reaffirmed and modified by the 1867 Treaty, established a Quapaw Reservation (State v. Lawhorn).”
Only Congress is authorized to terminate tribal reservations, and no such action was ever taken against the Quapaw Nation. “The District Attorney informed the district court that he and the Attorney General’s Office conducted ‘extensive research’ and found no evidence that Congress disestablished the Quapaw Nation Reservation (State v. Lawhorn).”
In his opinion, OCCA Presiding Judge Rowland continued with "Noting that the State of Oklahoma presented no evidence to show Congress erased or disestablished the boundaries of the Quapaw Reservation, and citing McGirt, the district court concluded that the Quapaw Nation Reservation remains in existence and is Indian Country and that the state had no jurisdiction in this matter. This finding is supported by the record and we adopt it (State v. Lawhorn)."
The Quapaw Nation is the first Tribal Reservation in Oklahoma outside of the Five Tribes to be affirmed using the McGirt application. The Five Tribes in Oklahoma include the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole Nations.
The Quapaw Nation’s Ki-ho-ta Center is located approximately one-half mile east/southeast of the intersection of E. 64 Road and Oklahoma Highway 69-A just outside Miami, between the Quapaw Casino and the Quapaw (O-Gah-Pah) Convenience Store.
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