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Driving While Indian? Know Your Rights!

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation recognizes that Indians residing, working, or traveling through the Mvskoke Reservation are being wrongfully prosecuted by the State and local governments for crimes ranging from speeding tickets to felonies. And in some instances, the State and local governments are unlawfully detaining Indians in relation to their criminal prosecutions. These actions are a direct violation of the fundamental rights of Indian people because federal law prohibits States and local governments from prosecuting Indians who allegedly commit offenses in Indian country.

Justice on the Rez is an advocacy campaign spearheaded by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General’s Office. The campaign is designed to help Mvskoke citizens and other Indians within the Nation’s Reservation understand their rights, empower Indians to exercise those rights, and defend the sovereignty of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. When Indians are wrongfully prosecuted, their rights as U.S. citizens and citizens of Tribal Nations are violated.

The individual rights guaranteed to every Indian person within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s jurisdiction are found in the United States Constitution, federal civil rights statutes and federal common law, the Oklahoma Constitution, and Oklahoma and local civil rights laws. Below is a non-exhaustive list of these rights.

  • An Indian person who allegedly commits an offense within the Nation’s Reservation has a right for his or her criminal case to be heard in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Court and/or the applicable federal court.
  • An Indian person has a right to freedom from unlawful prosecution, conviction, and detainment. Prosecution, conviction, and detainment is unlawful if the State knows the person is an Indian. The Nation encourages its citizens and all Indians to report their Indian status immediately upon encountering law enforcement and assert their Indian status in State and municipal court proceedings.
  • An Indian person has a right to be represented by counsel in State and municipal criminal proceedings.
  • An Indian person has a right to challenge a State or municipal court’s exercise of jurisdiction over his or her case.
  • An Indian person has a right to equal treatment under federal, state and local law. This includes freedom from discrimination by State and local governments as well as law enforcement.
  • An Indian person may enforce his or her civil rights by filing suit against State and local actors, which could include law enforcement officers.

Report the Incident…

If you have received a citation or were charged in a criminal case in state or municipal court, you can share your information with the Nation here. This is for data gathering only and is not an agreement for legal representation.

Survey: Data Collection Project…

If you suspect that your civil rights have been violated, please contact an attorney. The Nation also encourages you to report the incident to the Nation, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the State of Oklahoma.

Report a Civil Rights Violation: U.S. Department of Justice…

Report a Civil Rights Violation: State of Oklahoma…

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The information contained on this webpage is for educational purposes only. The information on this webpage is not, and should not, be taken or construed as legal advice. Further, this webpage does not provide an exhaustive list of relevant legal definitions, legal principles, and law enforcement protocols that may apply to your case. The Nation’s Attorney General’s Office strongly recommends that defendants retain legal counsel if they need legal assistance.

What is jurisdiction?

Jurisdiction is a technical legal term that refers to the power of a court to hear and decide a case. If a court lacks jurisdiction over a case, it should dismiss the case without rendering any decision relating to the underlying legal dispute.

What is Indian country?

“Indian country” includes all land within the limits of an Indian reservation that is under the jurisdiction of the federal government. This includes land held in trust or restricted status, such as Indian allotments, public lands (regardless of which government controls or oversees them), as well as land privately held by Indians, the Tribal Nation, or non-Indians. It also includes rights-of-way running through the Reservation, such as State roads, federal highways, easements, railroad tracks, and utility lines.

Whether land is Indian country matters because Indian tribes have the power to exercise certain types of sovereign authority over their citizens, other Indians, and non-Indian individuals within their Indian country.  Additionally, the authority of state governments and their political subdivisions, including counties and municipalities, is subject to certain limits within Indian country, particularly with respect to tribal citizens and other Indians.  One such limitation is that State governments and their political subdivisions do not have jurisdiction to prosecute, convict, or sentence Indians for crimes they commit in Indian country.

Is the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Reservation considered Indian country?

Yes. In McGirt v. Oklahoma, the United States Supreme Court affirmed that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Reservation boundaries have not been disestablished, and accordingly its Reservation remains Indian country for purposes of federal law.  140 S. Ct. 2452, 2462–68 (2020)

Who is considered an Indian?

For purposes of criminal jurisdiction, a person is an Indian if that person has some degree of Indian blood and is recognized as an Indian by a tribe or the federal government.

A tribal enrollment card will generally provide sufficient proof that the individual is an Indian, if the tribe’s citizenship criteria require that tribal citizens be Indian by blood. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s citizenship laws include such a requirement, so any Muscogee citizen qualifies as an Indian for purposes of criminal jurisdiction.

For those individuals who are not Tribal citizens, or if their Tribe’s citizenship code does not require proof of Indian blood, a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs should sufficiently demonstrate that the person has some degree of Indian blood. Individuals who have Indian blood but are not citizens of any Tribe may nevertheless be able to establish that they are recognized as Indian by a tribe or by the federal government by providing evidence that they receive government assistance reserved only to Indians, or that they otherwise enjoy the benefits of tribal affiliation, or have social recognition as an Indian by living on a reservation and participating in Indian social life. Individuals who are not enrolled tribal citizens may have more difficulty proving that they qualify as an Indian under these laws, because the question of whether a person who is not an enrolled tribal citizen is nevertheless recognized as an Indian by their tribe or the federal government may be more subjective and open to interpretation by the courts.

What is a cross-deputization agreement?

The Nation is dedicated to preserving and enhancing public safety for everyone within its Reservation. To effectuate its public safety goals, the Nation has entered into cooperative law enforcement agreements – i.e., cross-deputization agreements – with numerous local, State, and Federal law enforcement agencies. The purpose of the cross-deputization agreements is to delegate authority to law enforcement officers from the Nation and cooperating governments and agencies to enforce each other’s laws against all persons, both Indian and non-Indian, within their respective jurisdictions.

Accordingly, the agreements permit non-Nation officers to ticket, arrest, and detain Indians for violations of the Nation’s laws, just as they permit the Nation’s Lighthorse officers to ticket, arrest, and detain non-Indians for violations of non-tribal laws—with subsequent referrals in each case to the government with jurisdiction to prosecute the offenders in question.

What should you do if you get pulled over or arrested by non-Nation law enforcement?

The Nation is committed to ensuring that all persons in the Reservation remain safe and that all interactions with law enforcement are peaceably resolved. The Attorney General’s Office therefore recommends that Indians who are stopped or arrested by law enforcement, including non-Nation law enforcement, follow the protocols listed below:

  1. Law enforcement should ordinarily follow the same procedures they would follow during a stop and/or arrest, regardless of the person’s Indian status. These procedures include a request to see your driver’s license or other identification and vehicle registration.
  2. Officers should ask whether you are Indian. But if they do not, please explain that you are Indian and provide any proof of your status as an Indian to the officer when the officer requests your information. Please note that it is very important to identify yourself as an Indian during the initial stages of any stop and/or arrest.
  3. You may provide your tribal citizenship card and/or Certificate Degree of Indian Blood to law enforcement to demonstrate that you are Indian. If you do not possess or carry your tribal citizenship card or Certificate Degree of Indian Blood, please share your tribal affiliation with law enforcement. For example, “I am citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.”
  4. The officer may issue a ticket to you and/or arrest and book you into jail, depending on the offense. Regardless of whether you are an Indian or not, you should comply with all the officer’s directives and orders. Please do not attempt to challenge law enforcement officers about their authority to ticket, arrest, or detain you. The Nation’s priority is the safety of all persons within its Reservation, and these issues can and should be resolved in a peaceable manner in the court system.
  5. For ticketing, the officer should indicate that the ticket falls within the Nation’s jurisdiction by indicating in writing “Creek Nation jurisdiction” or “Creek Nation Court.” Your ticket should then go to the Nation for further resolution. However, if the officer does not send your ticket to the Nation, you will need to provide evidence of your status as an Indian in a hearing in State or municipal court.
  6. If you are arrested and booked into jail, please ensure that you have explained to law enforcement that you are Indian and that you have provided law enforcement with your tribal enrollment card, Certificate Degree of Indian Blood, and/or your tribal affiliation (i.e., “I am a Muscogee (Creek) citizen.”). Law enforcement should refer your case to the Nation for further resolution. However, if the officer does not send your case to the Nation, you will need to provide evidence of your status as an Indian in a hearing in State or municipal court.

How do you know if the Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Court has your case?

You may contact the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Attorney General’s Office at:

(918) 295-9720

What should you do if you are Indian, the alleged offense occurred in Indian country, and your case is before a county or municipal court judge?

If you are Indian and your alleged offense occurred within Indian country, you may assert as a defense that you are Indian and that the court should dismiss your case for lack of jurisdiction and refer it to the Nation for prosecution. Many individuals assert their defense by filing a motion to dismiss and proposed dismissal order.

If you assert your Indian status as a defense, the judge will ordinarily require you to provide proof that you are Indian. Accordingly, the court may require you to provide some, if not all, of the following information:

Proof of Indian Status

As noted above, a tribal citizenship card will often be sufficient to prove your Indian status. If you do not have a tribal citizenship card, or if citizenship in your tribe is available to individuals who may not be Indian by blood, other forms of proof may suffice, including proof that you receive government assistance reserved only to Indians, enjoy the benefits of tribal affiliation, or have social recognition as an Indian by living on a reservation and participating in Indian social life.

Location of Alleged Offense

Some courts may require you to demonstrate that the location of the alleged incident occurred in Indian country. Click here for a map of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Reservation.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s Reservation

You may call the court clerk prior to your court date to ask about the case status, information required, and any forms they may need you to fill out.

Resources

Resources from MCN

Application for Certificate of Citizenship – Muscogee (Creek) Nation

Map of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reservation…

Interactive Map of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reservation – External Link…

Resources from State and Municipal Courts

City of Muskogee: Template, Motion to Dismiss

Oklahoma Bar Association: Attorney Search…

Muscogee (Creek) Nation: Bar Association Attorney Search…

 

Updated: June 14, 2024

Sections

Pages

Muscogee (Creek) Nation
Office of the Attorney General

(918) 295-9720

moc.gancm@ecitsuJ

Location

Mailing Address

Attn.: MCN Attorney General
P.O. Box 580
Okmulgee, OK 74447

Monday–Friday; 8am–5pm

Contact Lighthorse for Emergency

(918) 732-7800

(877) 547-3390