Murder, federal overreach and a Supreme Court case that will influence the fate of nations – all are topics of interest in a new and one-of-kind podcast by Oklahoma native and Cherokee Nation citizen Rebecca Nagle.
In eight episodes, “This Land,” draws connections between a political assassination in 1839, a 1999 murder in small-town Oklahoma and a U.S. Supreme Court case that was postponed this summer.
“This Land,” is the story of Carpenter v. Murphy. It is also the story of Native America.
“I had been watching the Murphy case for a few years, and I was really excited to see the 10th Circuit Court’s decision,” Nagle said. “Over the course of our history many things have happened. One of those is that Oklahoma has stopped recognizing the legal right to our land.”
“This Land,” goes in-depth into Carpenter v. Murphy without getting caught in the weeds, and manages to tackle the legalese-filled topics on intergovernmental treaties and allotment with surprising accessibility.
The impact of the court’s decision could affect five tribes and nearly 30,000 square miles of land in Oklahoma.
The case recently joined famous cases like Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade on a short list of cases where the Supreme Court postponed for reargument.
All for a seemingly straightforward question and answer.
“The central issue of this case is whether or not our treaty rights are going to be recognized by the Supreme Court. And the central question of the case: Did Congress ever disestablish Muskogee Creek Nation’s reservation?” Nagel said.
“The United States created a legal system to take land away from the tribes. This case doesn’t say that the land should be given back or that the system is wrong,” Nagle said. “The legal issue is asking for the Supreme Court follow its own laws, look at the acts of Congress, see that Congress never disestablished the reservation, and to affirm it’s existence.”
Nagle is a journalist and writer whose byline has appeared in Indian Country Media Today and the Washington Post.
As a reporter and as an invested Cherokee citizen, Nagle said she had no choice but to take an interest in this case.
“Personally, the idea that the land my ancestors fought for could be acknowledged as our reservation is really powerful and really compelling,” Nagle said.
Nagle was approached by Crooked Media, the makers of Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It, following her op-ed about the Murphy case published in the Washington Post in November.
“I had never made a podcast before, so it was an exciting opportunity,” Nagle said. “We made the podcast in six months, which was a pretty quick turn-around.”
Nagle worked with the Muskogee Creek Nation to identify experts in this case and in the history of federal Indian law.
“As a journalist, one thing that I am really passionate about is making legal information accessible,” Nagle said. “Especially for Indian Country, it’s a system that is difficult for people who aren’t lawyers to wrap their heads around. But it is so central to our rights and to the sovereignty of our tribes that we need average citizens to be able to understand it.”
In the first episode of the podcast, Nagle recounts an interaction with a woman that was shocked to find that Native Americans are still alive today.
“When you look around mainstream society, whether it is television, movies, the newspaper, Native Americans are rarely included,” Nagle said. “And when we are, it is almost always images from the past. The ‘Dances with Wolves’ version of historic Native Americans, but not contemporary people.”
“For a lot of non-Native people, their understanding of tribes and of our history drops off around 1890,” Nagle said. “A lot of people have heard about the Trail of Tears, but they haven’t heard about how allotment impacted our tribe, or the fight for tribal sovereignty since the 1970s.”
Public awareness of all that is at stake in this case is critical to holding the court and lawmakers accountable, Nagle said. “But when people don’t know thing one about Native rights, it makes it hard.”
“Most of the time when these battles are happening, when we are fighting for something in Congress or in the courts, our issues take place in a vacuum,” Nagle said. “People within Indian Country are worried about it, watching it and talking about it, but people outside of Indian Country often don’t even know it’s going on.”
“Part of the struggle for Native American rights is that when it comes to the rights of tribes, very often the United States, and especially the Supreme Court, doesn’t respect its own laws,” Nagle said.
The question running through the minds of many Native Americans watching this case unfold is a painful one, Nagle said.
“Is the federal government going to move toward respecting the inherent sovereignty of tribes, or is it going to continue to turn its back on tribes and ignore the promises that it has made?”
Also at play in this story is the state of Oklahoma, which argued before the Supreme Court that the creation of the state and all the history sense is proof that the tribes have been disestablished.
Furthermore, they argued, acknowledging existence of the tribes would throw the state into chaos.
“Oklahoma’s ‘the sky is going to fall down’ arguments don’t hold up when you look at the laws that govern reservations and how reservations legally function,” Nagle said. “For those who live in the affected areas, the impact on their day-to-day lives would be pretty minimal. Your kids are still going to go to the same public schools. The same people are going to police your streets. The same people are going to pick up your trash, your going to vote in the same local and county elections. Tribes aren’t going to be the new Sheriff in town.”
No privately owned land will go back to the tribes. The tribes cannot collect taxes from non-Natives. Tribes can’t even prosecute non-Natives for committing crimes on the reservation.
Nagle hopes that by spreading facts of the case and the tribal nations’ point of view through her podcast, more people will lean in and pay attention.
“I’m still really hopeful that the Supreme Court will read the history of the allotment era and also look at their own precedent and make the right decision,” Nagle said.