Osage Nation Asserts Sovereignty

In litigation with potentially wide-ranging implications, the Tenth Circuit has recently held that the Osage can pursue its argument that all of Osage County is “Indian Country.”  The suit directly asserts their sovereign rights in direct opposition to the historically exercised sovereign authority of the State of Oklahoma.  Should they prevail, the legal principle could then be used to attempt to assert authority over environmental regulation, law enforcement, water rights and the like.

The crux of the argument is that the State is asserting that only trust land and allotment within Osage County is “Indian Country” under 18 U.S.C. Section 1151.  However, the Nation contends that all of the land within Osage County is Indian Country because its legal status as a reservation was never altered by Congress.  The State counters that the reservation lost its status at statehood.

The case was remanded to Judge Payne in the Northern District to proceed with the lawsuit.  The State lost its attempt to stop the lawsuit due to the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that limits certain lawsuits in federal court against states.  The State is filing a Petition for Rehearing as well as a Petition for Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court (which was due by May 5, 2008).  It is anticipated that the District Court trial will proceed promptly since the Tenth Circuit issued its mandate on March 5.

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