The exact legal question presented by this case — whether the allotment of tribal land dissolved a reservation — was asked and answered by the Supreme Court less than two years ago. In 2016, eight of the nine justices ruled in favor of the Omaha Tribe, and five of those justices are still on the bench. But the disputed area the Supreme Court upheld for the Omaha Tribe is much smaller, has fewer non-Native residents, and lacks the vast oil and gas reserves compared to 40 percent of the state of Oklahoma. If Oklahoma wins, the obvious reason will be the only difference between the two cases: circumstance, not precedent.
In 1835, the Supreme Court upheld the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation against the state of Georgia in a landmark decision that effectively ended Andrew Jackson’s campaign to remove all Indians west of the Mississippi. That was, until Jackson simply ignored the decision. He famously remarked, “Marshall has made his decision, let us see him enforce it.” As a result, Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles were rounded up by U.S. soldiers and forced on death marches in which a quarter to a third of their citizens died.
When Jackson vowed to defy the Supreme Court, there was one other man standing in the room. It was my ancestor, John Ridge.
I am not telling the story of my family and my tribe to ask the Supreme Court to change the law. I tell this story to ask that the law be followed.