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April 28, 2023



Muscogee (Creek) Nation Statement Regarding Oklahoma Supreme Court’s Ruling On The Indian Child Welfare Act

OKMULGEE, Okla. — The Muscogee (Creek) Nation (the “Nation”) is disheartened and disappointed to learn of a ruling issued this week by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in the Matter of S.J.W. regarding the application of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to a case involving a Muscogee Creek child who lives on the Chickasaw Nation Reservation.  Soon after the McGirt decision affirming the continued status of the Nation’s Reservation, the Nation found itself in a precarious situation needing to immediately exercise full child welfare authority over all Indian children in the Reservation as required by ICWA and the Nation’s own laws.  To that end, the Nation and the State met, negotiated, and entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement providing for Indian child welfare cases in the Reservation involving the Nation or the State to remain at status quo while the Nation built up its capacity to exercise full ICWA jurisdiction in the Reservation.

This intergovernmental partnership between the Nation and the State represented a good faith arrangement between two sovereigns to provide for a temporary fix and to avoid serious disruptions to Indian child welfare cases in the Reservation.

Now, the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ruling disrupts that partnership and causes unnecessary confusion over what is specifically affirmed in ICWA—that Indian tribes have exclusive authority over child custody proceedings involving all Indian children residing within reservation boundaries.  The Court’s central holding that the State retains concurrent jurisdiction with the Nation over the case since the child is a Creek Citizen residing in another Nation’s Reservation is a result in direct contradiction to the clear statutory text of ICWA.

Principal Chief David Hill said, “It is unfortunate the Oklahoma Supreme Court chose this path to reach a result inconsistent with what Congress intended and wrote when enacting ICWA.  The workers and advocates at the Nation’s Children and Family Services work tirelessly every day in support of one of ICWA’s key purposes, that ‘there is no resource that is more vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children…’  Despite this ruling, the Nation will persevere and remain strong in upholding and defending ICWA and our own laws to protect all Indian children residing within our Reservation.”