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Welcome to FCNL’s Native American Legislative Update! NALU is a monthly newsletter about FCNL’s Native American policy advocacy and ways for you to engage members of Congress.

Supreme Court Issues Castro-Huerta Decision

On June 29, by a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court held in the case of Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta that the federal government and states have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian Country. This decision, which limits the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, ignores 200 years of precedent, violates treaties, and substantially harms tribal sovereignty.

Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta is a non-Native person who was convicted and sentenced by a state court for abusing a Native child on Cherokee Nation land. When lower courts overturned his conviction because of jurisdictional issues, Oklahoma brought the case to the Supreme Court in the hopes of completely overturning McGirt, which determined much of eastern Oklahoma to be reservation land.

The Court did not completely overturn McGirt, but the ruling has disrupted tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction in criminal cases. For the first time in history, states, along with the federal government, will have concurrent jurisdiction over Indian Country. Unless Congress acts to preempt state jurisdiction, states can prosecute non-Natives for all crimes committed on tribal lands. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his dissent, “I hope the political branches and future courts will do their duty to honor this nation’s promises even as we have failed today to do our own.”

The true impact of Castro-Huerta depends on how states respond to their newly granted jurisdiction. For now, the 2022 Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is still good law, but law enforcement officials across jurisdictions are confused on how to proceed.

North American Nations Revive Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls

Senior government officials and Indigenous women leaders from the United States, Mexico, and Canada met this month to discuss strengthening access to justice and healing, addressing root causes of gender-based violence, and ways to advance Indigenous women’s leadership in all levels of government and civil society.

In a joint statement, the three governments reaffirmed the need for better regional coordination to address both the causes and responses to violence. “This effort builds on our three countries’ shared commitment to continue to work together, in partnership with Indigenous peoples, in particular with Indigenous women, to advance these goals.”

Road to Healing Tour Begins

On July 9, Secretary Deb Haaland began the Department of Interior’s nationwide “Road to Healing” tour at the Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Oklahoma. A recent Interior report found that there were 76 Native boarding schools in Oklahoma, the most in a single state. “Road to Healing” is a year-long tour meant to give survivors an opportunity to tell their stories and connect tribal communities with trauma-informed support.

“I am here to listen, to listen with you, to grieve with you…federal Indian boarding school policies have touched every Indigenous person,” said Secretary Haaland. “I know some are survivors, some are descendants, but we all carry the trauma in our hearts.”

Bill Tracker

Parity for Tribal Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 8387)

On July 14, Reps. Dan Newhouse (WA-4) and Derek Kilmer (WA-6) introduced this bipartisan bill to improve hiring and increase retention for tribal law enforcement officers to better protect tribal communities and help address the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP).

 What We’re Reading

People: Portia Skenandore-Wheelock

Portia Kay^nthos Skenandore-Wheelock

Congressional Advocate, Native American Advocacy Program
Portia manages the Native American Advocacy Program, lobbying on legislation that affects Native communities.