Oklahoma Tribe

For Oklahoma Tribe, Supreme Court Case Brings Vindication at Long Last – The New York Times

After decades of betrayals and broken treaties, the Supreme Court ruled that much of Oklahoma is their land, after all.

Credit…Kevin Wolf/National Museum of the American Indian, via Associated Press

The sorrow and death of the Trail of Tears were still fresh when a band of Muscogee (Creek) people gathered by an oak tree in 1836 to deposit the ashes of the ceremonial fires they had carried across America and begin a new home in the West. It was called Tulasi, or “Old Town.” Tulsa.

What followed were decades of betrayals, broken treaties and attempts to legislate and assimilate tribes out of existence. Then this week, the Supreme Court confirmed what the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has long asserted: That this land was their land.

“It’s so momentous and it’s immense,” said Joy Harjo, the United States poet laureate and a Muscogee (Creek) Nation member who lives in Tulsa. “It marks a possible shift. Not just for Muscogee Creek people, for all Native people.”

The court’s 5-to-4 declaration that much of Tulsa and eastern Oklahoma had long been a reservation of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation was seen as a watershed victory for Native Americans’ long campaign to uphold sovereignty, tribal boundaries and treaty obligations.

For Muscogee citizens, who make up the country’s fourth-largest Native American tribe, it was also something deeply personal, a thoroughly American moment that rippled across time, connecting ancestors forced to leave their homes in the Southeast with future generations.

“The impact is not only going forward,” Ms. Harjo said. “It’s going backward, all the way through the trail to Georgia and Alabama, where it resounds. It goes out in all directions.”

It brought feelings of relief, joy and vindication, mixed with older pains.

“It made me cry,” said Jason Salsman, the tribe’s press secretary. “It was a powerful moment, one I wasn’t ready for. It brought out emotions you didn’t know would be there. It was just a promise kept. We know the history of promises that have been broken. I still get chills thinking about it.”

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which has 86,100 enrolled members, stretches across three million acres of rolling hills, grasslands, small towns and cities across 11 counties in eastern Oklahoma. Sprinkled across that land are more than a dozen ceremonial grounds where citizens meet to tend sacred fires and participate in stomp-dance ceremonies.

“We experienced genocide, assimilation, colonization, conversion policy by the government,” said Amos McNac, 77, a justice on the Nation’s Supreme Court and heles-hayv, a medicine man. “We’ve survived. We still have our culture and our tradition.”

Much of that Nation’s history and even its name, bear the imprint of America’s colonial legacy.

“Muscogee” is the name of their language and the name of the confederacy of tribes that once sprawled across much of Alabama, Georgia and northern Florida in a system of interlocking tribal towns with their own land and political structures. “Creek” was the name used by white settlers because they lived near water.

The Nation is one of the Five Tribes, along with the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole, who were forced to leave their homelands in the 1830s by President Andrew Jackson and set off on a series of devastating treks west that killed thousands.

Today, the other members of the Five Tribes have similar arguments for federal recognition of their treaty lands in Oklahoma.

“You don’t know all of American history without knowing our history,” said Suzan Shown Harjo, a Cheyenne and Creek activist who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.

The history of treaties between tribes and the United States is rife with coercion and broken promises, and activists said the court’s decision was remarkable for doing something seemingly simple: Holding the United States to the promises it had made to tribal nations.

The court’s decision brought a mix of acceptance and confusion from non-Natives across Oklahoma. The mayor of Tulsa hailed a long history of cooperation between tribal and local governments, and said that the court’s “recognition of tribal boundaries will not even be noticeable” to most residents.

But Muscogee citizens said they were not surprised by more alarmist responses, including a tweet by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, saying that the court “just gave away half of Oklahoma, literally. Manhattan is next.”

Muscogee citizens said they saw generations of contempt embedded in the hyperbole.

“There were a lot of scare tactics: We’re going turn the prisoners loose, give us your tax dollars, your land is our land,” Mr. Salsman, the Muscogee press secretary said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The court’s decision will reshape how the criminal-justice system treats Native Americans by preventing state or local authorities from prosecuting Indigenous people who commit crimes on reservation land. Tribal or federal courts will now deal with their cases. The decision could also touch off a wave of new appeals from Indigenous people convicted by state courts.

When the Muscogee (Creek) Nation filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the court honor the 19th-century treaties that created the reservation, it took pains to point out that the tribe already runs a fully functioning government. The Nation runs three hospitals, a police force and tribal court system and several casinos, which make up a major part of its $350 million budget, according to court filings. The Muscogee (Creek) attorney general pointed out that its police force regularly works with other law-enforcement agencies, and spent 12 hours last winter helping a sheriff’s office track down a non-Native suspect in a double murder.

“Our pride comes from understanding our responsibilities to our fellow Creek citizens and to the community as a whole,” said Jonodev Chaudhuri, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., who is also the Nation’s ambassador. “What it means to be Creek: It means having an obligation to respect our traditions, our culture, and to learn as much as I can about our history.”

Its complicated chapters are tied up in America’s history of slavery and racism. Members of the Five Tribes brought enslaved people West with them. During the Civil War, neutral Muscogees were attacked by Confederate troops and ultimately fought both for the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War, according to the tribe.

After the war, emancipated slaves known as Creek Freedmen settled in the Greenwood area of Tulsa. It blossomed into one of the wealthiest concentration of Black businesses anywhere in America, known as “Black Wall Street,” until white residents slaughtered more than 300 Black residents and torched the area in 1921, one of America’s most notorious racist massacres.

The Muscogee lost nearly half their lands in an 1866 Reconstruction treaty, and over the following decades saw them splintered off and sold to private owners. State officials began denying that there had ever been a Creek reservation on land that became Oklahoma.

“We were assaulted daily by changes of laws, movements, politics,” said Ms. Harjo, the poet laureate. “Yet we’re still here. We’re still a viable people, one of the largest in the nation.”

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Medical Oklahoma

Oklahoma Medical Professionals Concerned With Spike In COVID-19 Cases In State – KWTV

Tuesday, July 7th 2020, 4:40 pm

By: Karl Torp

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Department of Health reported 858 new COVID-19 cases.

That shatters the previous record high of 585 cases.

The new numbers have health experts once again calling for a mask mandate. 

“I strongly believe we need to have a mask mandate,” said Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU’s chief COVID officer.

Bratzler said wearing masks will dramatically slow the transmission of the virus and data said wearing a mask could ultimately improve the economy.

There is research that suggests COVID-19 has mutated to become a more contagious virus, but not less dangerous, Bratzler said.

“The studies I have read suggest there is more virus in the nose of those people, so they spread it easier,” Bratzler said.

The state health department data shows 9.8% tested positive of the more than 25,000 tested over the three-day holiday weekend.

More people are being tested, but the infection rate is also increasing.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo added Oklahoma to a list of 19 states under a quarantine order when entering the state.

The number of current hospitalizations in Oklahoma has more doubles in the past three weeks and now stands at 426.

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Oklahoma Tulsa

How Tulsa, Oklahoma, mirrored a fractured nation during Trump’s rally – NBC News

TULSA, Okla. — To the Rev. Robert R.A. Turner, pastor of Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was the only building left partly standing on Greenwood Avenue after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, a palpable divide over everything from politics to health and science is a part of everyday life here.

In this city, the vast majority of the white population votes Republican, and in the 2016 election, just over 65 percent of the state voted for Donald Trump. In predominantly white South Tulsa, some stare when they spot people wearing masks to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Yet Turner’s church in North Tulsa has delivered more than 60,000 free meals to the needy and those rendered desperate by the crisis.

Tulsa last week was a city perhaps only as divided as the country around it. And it was where the president’s sparsely attended rally held up a kind of mirror to just how fractured the nation has become.

Mayor G.T. Bynum, who is white and Republican, has supported a civilian police oversight commission while leaving the police union with a different impression, and he has downplayed the role of race in police shootings that left two Black men dead since he was elected in 2016. In the days before Trump held a campaign rally here Saturday night, a top-ranking police officer denied that systemic racism shapes the city’s police department. In fact, the officer said, the department’s officers “probably ought to” shoot Black people more often. Bynum and the chief of police, who is Black, denounced the officer’s comments.

“This is a place where not one district attorney has launched a single investigation into a race massacre that occurred right here in 1921,” said Turner, whose church is the only Black-owned property on Greenwood Avenue, once the pulsating center of the Tulsa business district known as Black Wall Street. Turner joined a group that called on Bynum to cancel Trump’s event. “And a good portion of the population still have no idea what happened here at all,” he said.

After Trump’s rally, Vernon AME projected a giant Black Lives Matter sign on the side of its sanctuary, creating a kind of beacon in the night. When police discharged pepper balls into a group of protesters who gathered near BOK Center, where Trump spoke Saturday, about 1,000 marched to a space near the church.

“This is the most divided we have ever been since the Civil War,” Bill Schneider, a professor of public policy at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, said in a telephone interview after the rally.

“In some ways, I would say that the things that are happening now happened in many places before the Civil War,” Schneider said. “Churches, organizations, all sorts of institutions were splitting. Back then, it was over the slavery issue. Now, it’s really over Donald Trump.”

Outside BOK Center on Saturday, those divisions manifested themselves in ways big and small.

Sisters Lori Levi and Donna Fitzsimons came from Detroit with a trailer full of Trump merchandise. The women parked three blocks from BOK Center, as close as police and the barricades would allow. By the day of the rally, the sisters hardly had time to eat.

Two of their bestsellers were a red T-shirt with “45²” printed on it and a black shirt with an American flag and a cross with the words “JESUS IS MY SAVIOR” and “TRUMP IS MY PRESIDENT.”

Unmasked customers at Brietta’s Buttons, the mobile Trump merchandise shop owned and brought to Tulsa, Okla., by Michigan sisters Lori Levi and Donna Fitzsimons, on Friday, June 19, 2020.Janell Ross / NBC News

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“People want to show Trump, our president, some support and a lot of respect,” Levi, who is white, said after explaining to a second person in a line of nine unmasked customers that only XLs remained of the “JESUS IS MY SAVIOR” design. Levi was not surprised. “A lot of them feel like that’s what our country really needs, a lot more respect for our president.”

The Trump event — which was attended by a small fraction of the 1 million people his campaign had predicted — came a day after Oklahoma health officials announced that while coronavirus deaths had declined in the state, 1,728 new cases had been detected, a 140.3 percent jump from the previous week. And by Monday, the state had joined the ranks of those reporting record high case counts. The Trump administration also announced Monday that two of its staff members in attendance Saturday tested positive afterward, even though they were wearing masks during the rally.

Just 3 miles northeast of BOK Center, in a small Greenwood district storefront that Cleo Harris Jr. opened on Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, Harris and his entire family also scrambled to keep up with the sudden demand for their merchandise. Cubbies and shelves that for months had been full of T-shirts with phrases like “Black Wall Street” and “I Can’t Breathe” were running low. The customers — most of them masked — wanted more.

Harris, who is Black, had to rush out and buy retail-priced blank T-shirt stock at Hobby Lobby, the chain store perhaps best known for contesting what it views a religious freedom infringement inherent in the birth control coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

“This here is an extension of my T-shirt ministry,” said Harris, who started his business on a Tulsa corner almost seven years ago with a T-shirt he designed that read “Kill Racism, Not Me.” Last weekend, he put his son and grandson to work screen-printing more of the newer designs.

“I have some ideas, some information I’m trying to spread,” Harris said. “Racism really is the core of the country’s problems. We can talk about that all we want, but in order to change that, it’s white people who are going to have to step up.”

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The nation’s divisions did not begin and end with Trump, said Schneider, who was a CNN political analyst for 20 years. This period of growing division began in the 1960s with Richard Nixon, a Republican, or, as some in the GOP would argue, with Democrat Lyndon Johnson. Nixon, Schneider said, gets his vote for sowing the seeds of America’s current divisions, because, like Trump, he mobilized and used them for political gain.

In the 1968 election, Nixon performed worst in Mississippi, where he claimed 13.5 percent of the vote. After adopting the “Southern strategy” — telling white Americans angry about social and legislative changes designed to advance equality that they, the majority, were being unfairly overruled and left in particular danger of rising crime — Nixon added a new group to the Republican Party’s ranks, Schneider said.

A more overt spokesman for white supremacy, George Wallace, cut into Nixon’s white voter gains that year. But white Southerners and those in other states gripped by what Schneider called “racial resentment” moved in droves to the Republican Party over the next 50 years. Beginning with the 1968 election, Democrats have failed to win a majority of the white vote in every presidential contest. By the 1972 election, Nixon had performed best in Mississippi, winning 78 percent of the popular vote.

“Nixon folded the racial backlash into the Republican Party,” said Schneider, whose research focuses on public opinion and elections. “Since then, we’ve had presidents who were divisive. Clinton was divisive. Obama was divisive. The second Bush was divisive. But Trump is unique, because he decided to make those divisions a source of his strength, to deliberately and overtly exploit those divisions for his own gain.”

To Dolly Campbell, Trump’s visit to Tulsa represented a kind of real-world civics exercise.

Campbell, who was not wearing a mask, pointed to her three unmasked children seated in camp chairs underneath a beach umbrella braced against a downtown Tulsa fence. The family arrived Friday from their home in Oklahoma City.

“I brought my children precisely because I want them to see this rally, see the protesters and see that in this country, everybody has a right to their opinion,” she said.

Moments before, Campbell had engaged in a brief shouting match with a Black woman who was stopped at a nearby traffic light. The woman — also without a face covering — pushed her upper body through the passenger window of a sports coupe and yelled curses about the president and his supporters and disregard for Black life.

A supporter waves a flag before a campaign rally for President Donald Trump at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday, June 20, 2020.Charlie Riedel / AP

Campbell, who is white, made sure to deposit her children in the safety of a nearby hotel at night. But she and new friends met on the sidewalk to camp there overnight to hold their places in line to get into the rally. She said she views Trump as the only politician who understands and speaks for the Everyman, a president whose policies have made economic life better for every group of Americans. Trump, Campbell said, is a man who cares very much about those who are not powerful or rich.

“Let me put on my tinfoil hat,” Campbell joked, “but this country is breaking my heart. This country is so divided, and I think there are a lot of powerful people who make sure we stay that way, that people don’t support Trump because if we were more united we could accomplish almost anything.”

A few blocks from Campbell and just feet from the Detroit sisters’ mobile store, Crystal Hines and Charles Lunn, who are Black and also from Oklahoma City, decided to display their Black Lives Matter signs.

As Hines, Lunn and their two children, all wearing masks, made their way from their car to a space near BOK Center filled with Trump protesters, fans and vendors, two or three people hissed unfriendly warnings that they should stay away.

They had to show up to voice their opinions, Lunn said. They would bear witness to another dangerous event in Tulsa. Besides, the warnings about danger near the rally discounted the peril Black Americans face daily, he said.

“There’s the possible danger out here and the constant danger of living in the United States. I’ve got to worry about them,” Lunn said, pointing to his children, including his 20-year-old son, “getting stopped by police and what’s going to happen in the next four years. And it’s hard to reconcile and resign yourself to dangers every day.”

Violence at Trump rallies in 2016 and the number of Trump supporters brandishing guns near BOK Center on Saturday prompted the family’s one concession to immediate safety.

They headed out of Tulsa before dark.

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Oklahoma senator

Oklahoma senator explains change in date of Trump rally – POLITICO

“Many of my African American friends and supporters have reached out to suggest that we consider changing the date out … of respect for this Holiday, and in observance of this important occasion and all that it represents,” Trump posted on Twitter. “I have therefore decided to move our rally to Saturday, June 20th, in order to honor their requests.”

The rally is set to take place in Tulsa, Okla., site of one of the most brutal race massacres in U.S. history.

Lankford told host Jake Tapper there were several people who talked to the president about the rally “just to be able to raise the issue.”

He also acknowledged it’s been 99 years since the massacre, “where a white mob ransacked through the Greenwood district, what was called at that time the Black Wall Street and killed up to 300 people and burned that part of the city to the ground,” Lankford said. (Some historians place the death toll higher.)

“There are special sensitivities there in Tulsa. But Juneteenth is a very significant day,” Lankford said. “So my encouragement to the president was to be able to pick a day around it.”

“Actually interestingly enough when I talked to him, I called him on a different reason, he raised it to me and said, ‘What do you think about this? I’m thinking about it, other people have asked me about it.,'” he added. “I suggested, yes, I think that’d be a great idea and it’d be very, very respectful to the community. His immediate response was I don’t want to do anything to be able to disrespect the black community.”

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